01/21/2012 12:38PM

Weekend Stakes Opinions

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Let's take a quick peek at some of the weekend's major stakes races:

KITTEN'S JOY STAKES - RACE 10 - GULFSTREAM PARK:

Trainer Graham Motion has a powerful duo in the Team Valor-owned uncoupled entry of HOWE GREAT and LUCKY CHAPPY.  The former, a gate-to-wire winner of his grass and route debut here on December 15, is likely to be the bigger price, but looms a strong early factor in what may be a paceless event.  LUCKY CHAPPY, arguably the class of the race after finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, doesn't break very well from the gate and could be compromised by the lack of heat up front.  Also, he was scheduled to ship out to California after the Breeders' Cup, but came down with a high fever and had to miss that engagement. 
Instead, I'll take a chance with ITALO, the winner of the $100,000 Appleton Juvenile Turf in his route debut at Calder on November 12.  Most recently, Italo was seventh at 33-1 odds in the $100,000 Dania Beach Stakes, but I don't think he had a very good trip that day.  He was steadied a few strides out of the gate, raced far behind while last on the rail and finished evenly through some traffic.  He really didn't have much of a chance coming from last that afternoon, but could be ridden more aggressively leaving the gate today.  He does have a tendency to get a bit rank, but I feel that Italo's last race is better than it looks on paper and he may drift from his 4-1 morning line.  EMPIRE BUILDER had an easier trip when finishing ahead of Italo in the Dania Beach as he rode the pocket and had an opportunity to split rivals in upper stretch.  This will be his second start of the form cycle and improvement may be expected.  COZZETTI has yet to win on grass, but boasts a strong turf pedigree and has been well-regarded by the Dale Romans barn.  He should make his presence felt.
SELECTIONS:  ITALO, EMPIRE BUILDER, LUCKY CHAPPY

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LECOMTE STAKES - RACE 11 - FAIR GROUNDS:

This looks like a wide-open betting affair with several evenly-matched 3-year-olds hoping to find their spot on the Derby trail.  Z DAGER made two moves in winning his maiden over this course and distance on December 15.  He was used early to press the pace along the inside before being shuffled back to the pocket entering the far turn.  When the rail opened up in the stretch, Z Dager re-rallied to post the 14-1 upset.  Trained by Steve Asmussen, Z Dager seems to be improving. This is a huge step up in class for Z Dager, who must prove that he is as equally adept over fast ground, but he has the tactical speed to sit just off the expected solid pace.  His coupled entrymate, the Todd Pletcher-trained DAN AND SHEILA, may hurt the price, but Z Dager figures to offer solid wagering value.  EXFACTOR has won his last three starts for trainer Bernie Flint, but stretches out beyond six furlongs for the first time in his career and his training was interrupted this week when he banged his hind leg.  The gray colt has some talent, but may be bet down from his 5-1 morning line and must answer the distance question.  SEVEN LIVELY SINS earned his sole career victory over polytrack at Keeneland, but he was a game second in the Grade 3 Iroquois contested around a one-turn mile at Churchill on October 30.  He was outsprinted in the Delta Jackpot, his two-turn debut, but passed some tired ones in the late stages to finish fourth on November 19.  Seven Lively Sins has some speed, but his pedigree is somewhat questionable at this distance.  CAPETOWN DEVIL has won all three starts, including a course and distance victory here on New Year's Eve.  He draws a tough outside post position along with the talented SHARED PROPERTY.  HERO OF ORDER looms a pace threat after a five-length maiden score at six furlongs.  MR. BOWLING finished behind Seven Lively Sins when the beaten favorite in the Iroquois and had to skip the Springboard Mile at Remington in December due to illness.  HAMMERS TERROR has done little wrong and can't be discounted for Michael Stidham and James Graham. 
SELECTIONS:  Z DAGER, EXFACTOR, SEVEN LIVELY SINS

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PALOS VERDES STAKES - RACE 8 - SANTA ANITA:

The scratch of Eclipse champion AMAZOMBIE opens things up a bit in the Palos Verdes and I'll give M ONE RIFLE an opportunity to pick up his first graded win since the 2009 Malibu.  After finishing third in his first start following a layoff line in the Cal Cup Sprint, M One Rifle attempted to rally over a speed-favoring cushion track when third in the Grade 3 Vernon O. Underwood Stakes on November 26.  Trained by Bruce Headley, M One Rifle has some tactical speed and may sit in behind the leaders before the real racing begins.  FRUMIOUS won his last two starts for a tag in fast time and has a good amount of early speed.  He must avoid an early duel with EUROEARS, GALIENTOS and COURTSIDE.  Galientos should have sky-high confidence after winning his last two races, but this will be his toughest test to date.  Courtside looked good in the Cal Cup Sprint and has winning experience over sloppy going.  Euroears also runs well on wet going, but his form comes into question as he likely makes the final start of his career.
SELECTIONS:  M ONE RIFLE, FRUMIOUS, GALIENTOS

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LA CANADA STAKES - RACE 8 - SANTA ANITA (SUNDAY):

INCLUDE ME OUT will stretch out around two turns for the first time in the La Canada, but is certainly bred to appreciate this added distance.  Her sire won the Pimlico Special at 1 3/16 miles while the dam has already foaled Check the Label, the winner of the Grade 1 Garden City Stakes on grass at nine furlongs.  Include Me Out was the easiest of winners three back in an entry-level optional claimer over "good" going at six furlongs and was flattered when both the second- and third-place finishers returned to win with 85 Beyer Speed Figures (the third-finisher then scored again with a 94 Beyer).  An even fifth in the Grade 1 La Brea going seven furlongs last time out, Include Me Out may be set for a big move forward in her first start around two turns.  MAY DAY ROSE looms the controlling speed from the rail for Bob Baffert and is a multiple graded winner.  BIG TIZ should improve off her recent sprint, her first start following an injury-induced layoff, but is still eligible for an 'N2L' allowance.  CAPITAL PLAN and TIZ FLIRTATIOUS are both on winning streaks.  The former has yet to race on dirt, however, while Tiz Flirtatious will make her first route attempt here.  GREAT HOT finished ahead of the top selection in the La Brea.  She has a tendency to bleed through her Lasix at times, but is a logical threat on her best day.
SELECTIONS:  INCLUDE ME OUT, MAY DAY ROSE, BIG TIZ

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Mike Beer and I have some "stakes handicapping preview" videos at the following link:

http://www.drf.com/events/weekend-stakes-previews-picks-analysis-more

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