02/04/2011 6:11PM

Suwannee River, Donn Handicap, Thunder Road, San Antonio


Let's take a look at some of this weekend's stakes races:

San Antonio Stakes - Santa Anita (Sunday) - Race 6:

AGGIE ENGINEER has been on fire in his last three starts, winning a pair of graded events, and showing a new dimension by stalking and pouncing in his most recent effort.  He looms the horse to beat, but I'm going to go with a new face. 
GLADDING is eligible for the Strub as a newly-turned four-year-old, but trainer John Sadler is probably reluctant to run him against his better-fancied stablemate, Twirling Candy, in that spot.  Instead, Gladding will take on his elders in the San Antonio.  A private purchase that has won his last two dirt races by a combined 19 1/2 lengths, Gladding has enough early speed to establish good position, and Rafael Bejarano may attempt to grab the lead going into the first turn.  Although I don't think he beat the toughest bunch in the world in his recent entry-level optional claiming score at Santa Anita, Gladding pressed solid fractions throughout, turned back a challenge from Strub hopeful Oilisblackgold after bumping with that rival in upper stretch, and kept nicely to his task to score by almost three lengths. 
Selections:  Gladding, Aggie Engineer, Dakota Phone

Thunder Road Handicap - Santa Anita (Saturday) - Race 8:

If pace truly does make the race, then COLGAN'S CHIP may be worth a longshot try in the Grade 3 Thunder Road.  The pacesetter to midstretch in the Grade 2 Citation Handicap on November 27, Colgan's Chip failed to stay that 1 1/16 mile distance after setting a lively clip throughout.  The pace doesn't look as demanding in the Thunder Road, and Colgan's Chip may be able to relax on a lonely early advantage.  Turning back a sixteenth of a mile may also work to the gray gelding's advantage.  He still must prove that he is truly graded class, but he's run some races that are good enough to win this, and he should be very prominent when the field swings into the stretch.
Selections:  Colgan's Chip, Proudinsky, Victor's Cry

Saturday Santa Anita Quick and Dirty Selections:
Las Virgenes: 
Turbulent Descent, Zazu, California Nectar
Strub:  Twirling Candy, Honour the Deputy, Tweebster

Donn Handicap - Gulfstream (Saturday) - Race 10:

It's a fascinating renewal of the historic Donn with three major contenders to consider.  RULE and MORNING LINE, the 2-3 finishers of the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Stakes on January 8, both hope to successfully stretch out to nine furlongs. 
The former, a multiple Grade 3 winner that was a game third at this distance in last year's Florida Derby, has some questions to answer.  Although he is capable of improvement in his second start following a long layoff, Rule must show that he can successfully stay the distance.  Also, all four of Rule's lifetime wins have come in gate-to-wire fashion.  With SQUARE EDDIE, HEAR YE HEAR YE, and MORNING LINE entered to Rule's inside, John Velazquez may have to rate the Pletcher-trained son of Roman Ruler. 
MORNING LINE, a courageous second in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile in his final start at three, never looked comfortable at all when the beaten favorite in the Hal's Hope.  He was under a heavy drive with three furlongs to run, and stayed on one-paced behind Soaring Empire.  Unlike Rule, Morning Line has had previous success at this distance, but a hot pace might work against him as well. 
I usually don't like to play one-run closers, but FLY DOWN might get the right scenario in the Donn.  Second in the Belmont and Travers at three, Fly Down had no pace to run at when third in his first start against elders in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on October 2.  In his most recent start, the Breeders' Cup Classic, Fly Down was checked terribly on the first turn, yet still finished well to be third despite drifting in just a tad.  What I liked best about Fly Down's Breeders' Cup try was that he made his final lead change willingly, an encouraging move for a horse that had problems switching legs for most of his campaign.  Fly Down shows three straight quick workouts for the red-hot Nick Zito, and can make his presence felt in the lane.
Selections:  Fly Down, Rule, Morning Line

Suwannee River Stakes (Saturday) - Gulfstream - Race 7:

This looks like a fun betting race with several contenders.  It wouldn't be surprising to see three or four noses on the line here, and trip could make all the difference.  I'm going to go with CHEROKEE QUEEN, a six-year-old mare making her fourth start of the form cycle for trainer Marty Wolfson.  Cherokee Queen may appreciate a slightly shorter distance than the nine furlongs of the Suwannee River, but she's won at the route in the past (entry-level allowance win at Belmont on June 18, 2008).  Although she finished behind a couple of the runners she'll face on Saturday in the Grade 3 Marshua's River Stakes on January 9, I didn't think that Cherokee Queen had a very good trip.  In-and-among horses for most of the way, Cherokee Queen split rivals while three wide on the far turn, but ended up five deep turning for home.  She made a solid run before weakening a bit in the final sixteenth to finish fourth. 
PERSUADING, the Marshua's River runner-up, at 36-1 odds, may be tough to catch once again.  She stole out to an easy lead in the Marshua's River before being passed nearing the wire.  A winner at nine furlongs on dirt, Persuading is a lightly-raced four-year-old with some upside potential. 
TRIX IN THE CITY parlayed a perfect trip into victory in a 'n3x' optional claimer here on January 12, but if you toss out her terrible performance in the Grade 3 Athenia two back over boggy going (she also broke through the gate prior to the start), you're left with a mare that's won her last two turf races.  She may be in closest attendance to Persuading for the backstretch run. 
IT'S TEA TIME should be used in multi-race wagers.  A two-time winner at this distance, It's Tea Time had a troubled trip when fourth in the Grade 1 Spinster over polytrack two starts back.  She was mired down on the rail every step of the way that afternoon, and was checked in midstretch when commencing her rally.  Last time out, in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic over dirt, It's Tea Time was simply overmatched.  Now, she's back on grass, arguably her preferred surface, and can make a strong late bid. 
NEVER RETREAT, only beaten a length in the Marshua's River, figures to save valuable ground in the early going under Carlos Marquez Jr.  A four-time stakes-winner, Never Retreat sometimes has trouble with her lead changes, and may be slightly more effective on wet ground.
Selections:  Cherokee Queen, Persuading, Trix in the City

Saturday Gulfstream Quick and Dirty Selection:
Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap:  Battle of Hastings, Twilight Meteor, Little Mike.

For more in-depth analysis featuring DRF National Handicapper Mike Watchmaker and drf.com Handicapper Mike Beer, click on the below link:


More importantly, who do you like this weekend?  I want to know.

Next week, I'll pick a race for the upcoming HandiGambling event.

Best of luck,