02/12/2010 5:03PM

Weekend Opinions

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Let's take a look at some of the big races in Florida and California on Saturday.

Hurricane Bertie - Gulfstream - Race 7:
The top three finishers of the Sugar Swirl Stakes on January 9 are back for more in this 6 1/2 furlong dash. 
Tar Heel Mom, the Sugar Swirl third-place finisher, may have run the best of the three that aftenoon.  She dueled hard all the way on the front end, put away the other speeds, and held gamely through the stretch to lose by a dirty head.  I'd like her a lot more if this race didn't project just as speedy as the Sugar Swirl.  Kays and Jays, Dr. Zic, and some others have early lick, and their presence may compromise Tar Heel Mom on the lead.  
Pretty Prolific and Warbling took advantage of that hot pace to run 1-2 in the Sugar Swirl and both should benefit from fast splits here.  Although Warbling failed to win the Sugar Swirl despite a good stalking trip, it's possible that we haven't seen the best from the Unbridled's Song filly.  She's only made three lifetime starts, has reeled off a pair of bullet works leading up to this race, and may get the jump on Pretty Prolific turning for home. 
Selection:  Warbling

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Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship - Gulfstream - Race 9:
Is Munnings as good as the world seems to think?  He's certainly fast, but his big-fig in the Tom Fool Handicap at Belmont came at the expense of two vastly-inferior dueling pacesetters in Riley Tucker and Driven by Success.  A good horse like Munnings should run fast when given a perfect trip.  Perhaps he isn't as talented on wet going so you can excuse his last few races, but remember that Munnings missed a tilt at the Cigar Mile due to a bruised foot, and will have to navigate seven furlongs off a four-month layoff. 
I'm not in love with the opposition, but I do have a soft spot in my heart for Solar Flare, an underachiever in every sense of the word.  I'm still trying to get over the heartache of watching Solar Flare chase 40-1 Frost Giant around the track in vain in the 2008 Suburban Handicap at Belmont.  That's the problem with Solar Flare; he doesn't seem to want it when the chips are down.  Take his 111 Beyer win at Monmouth three back with a grain of salt.  He enjoyed a perfect trip tracking a pace duel and picked up the pieces when the leaders fell apart.  Perhaps Solar Flare moved forward in his first start for Tony Dutrow as he kept to his task nicely once in front under Ramon Dominguez.  It'll be interesting to see if 7 furlongs is a bit sharp for him as well (the only time he's ever sprinted was in his native Argentina in a runner-up effort in 2007).  I'll take him in an upset, but won't bet the mortgage as he tends to really hang.
Selection:  Solar Flare

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Sam F. Davis - Tampa Bay - Race 10:
A nice field as there are important graded earnings on the line, but Derby prep races can be tricky bets as the major goal is the first Saturday in May.  Rule and Uptowncharlybrown look like the horses to beat, but the former has won his last three races in gate-to-wire fashion, and may face some pace pressure up front.  Plus, Rule already has enough earnings to claim a berth in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.  Will he truly be cranked up for this assingment? Uptowncharlybrown, on the other hand, is a promising colt making his first start around two turns.  Both can win, but I landed on Middle of the Nite for Tom Albertrani. 
I liked his maiden win two back at Belmont as he dueled two other runners into the ground before opening up in the stretch.  In his most recent start, he only finished two lengths shy of Eskendereya, a promising Todd Pletcher-trained Derby hopeful.  Middle of the Nite shows three five-furlong workouts leading up to the Sam F. Davis, and he has the pedigree to run well around two turns.  His sire, Offlee Wild, won the Suburban at 1 1/4 miles, and all five of the dam's lifetime wins came in routes (between a mile and 1 1/16 miles).  Given an alert start, Middle of the Nite shouldn't be too far off the early leaders, and he might be quick enough to grab the front if he breaks aggressively . 
Selection:  Middle of the Nite

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Las Virgenes - Santa Anita - Race 4:
Blind Luck will deservedly start as the heavy favorite based on her seven-length win in the Hollywood Starlet over three next-out winners, but those looking to beat the favorite may want to take a chance with the two runners exiting the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel on January 10. 
The winner, Crisp, was coming into the Santa Ysabel following a wild maiden win in which she bore out terribly.  Trainer John Sadler changed bits for the Santa Ysabel, Crisp stayed straight as a string, and she roared past Evening Jewel in the final furlong.
Evening Jewel tracked a lone pacesetter in the Santa Ysabel, reeled that one in on the turn, opened up in upper stretch, and simply failed to contain Crisp's rally.  Both should offer some value in this race, but Evening Jewel may get the jump on Crisp once again, and the turnback in distance could work to her favor.  She gets a very tepid nod.
Selection:  Evening Jewel

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Robert B. Lewis - Santa Anita - Race 6:
Tiz Chrome's speed should play well in this spot as it looks like he only has to fend off the early challenge of overmatched Tango Tango.  Still, this is Tiz Chrome's first start around two turns, and he hasn't been out in almost two months. 
While Dave in Dixie is returning from an even longer layoff, he has run well around two turns.  He started second-favorite to juvenile champion Lookin At Lucky when making only his second lifetime start in the Grade 1 Norfolk and made up some late ground after falling far behind early.  This colt doesn't have much early speed, and will be at the mercy of pace in this short field, but I think he has some ability.  Let's see if he's fully cranked up for his first start of the season.
Selection:  Dave in Dixie

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Santa Maria Handicap - Santa Anita - Race 8:
Life Is Sweet and Mushka, the 1-2 finishers of the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic, figure to take a good amount of support.  Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, however, as Life
Is Sweet missed a scheduled appearance earlier this meet after suffering from muscle cramps.  Mushka, like Life Is Sweet, likes to rally from far behind, and will need pace and race luck. 
The two horses that could get the jump on both Life is Sweet and Mushka from stalking range are St Trinians and Zardana.  The former is a perfect 3-3 in this country, but she will take a big step up in class for this race, and doesn't have the prettiest action in the world.  Also, she seems like a wiseguy horse and may get bet down. 
Zardana, like Life Is Sweet, is trained by John Shirreffs, and she showed a new dimension in upsetting the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park.  Once a speed-crazy filly, she has mellowed a bit with age, and rated kindly under Victor Espinoza in the Bayakoa.  It's possible that Zardana was only entered in the case that Life Is Sweet suffers a relapse, but she should be well-placed down the backstretch if she does start, and is in excellent form.
Selection:  Zardana

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Here are two for the quick and dirty bin:

Strub:  Misremembered
Endeavour:  Lady Shakespeare

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

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Best of luck.  I'll be back Tuesday with the recap, questions, comments, and thoughts.

Dan