04/17/2010 9:03AM

Weekend thoughts

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We're two weeks away from the Kentucky Derby, but this sport doesn't stop to smell the Roses. 

There are some fascinating stakes races on tap this weekend.  For what it's worth, here are some horses I'll be watching with keen interest:

Lexington Stakes - Keeneland - Race 9:
UPTOWNCHARLYBROWN is the sentimental pick as his trainer, Alan Seewald, passed away on Monday.  But Uptowncharlybrown is also a rather talented three-year-old and it will be interesting to see how he handles a synthetic surface when he runs later this afternoon in the Lexington. 

Uptowncharlybrown is a hulking individual and he may not have been totally comfortable being stuck on the rail every step of the way in the Tampa Bay Derby.  Now, I know the Tampa Bay Derby has not been the most productive Kentucky Derby prep race thus far, but I thought Uptowncharlybrown ran pretty well that day. 

In his first start with blinkers, he was understandably keyed up, and was checked hard while down on the rail going into the first turn.  Jockey Daniel Centeno kept him in the pocket on the backstretch and I believe that Centeno expected to ease into the two-path to challenge pacesetting Super Saver when he saw Rajiv Maragh scrubbing vigorously on pace-pressing Odysseus with three furlongs to run.  Centeno was probably surprised when Odysseus didn't drop out of it and Uptowncharlybrown was still down inside when they swung into the stretch. 

Uptowncharlybrown finished evenly despite not having much room in which to maneuver and now receives a jockey switch to Garrett Gomez.  There is some pace for him to attack in this spot and, if he handles this surface switch, should be able to make his presence felt late.

Distaff Handicap - Aqueduct - Race 9:
The Florida invaders, MATCHLESS ORINDA and TAR HEEL MOM, will rightly receive a good amount of play, but I'm going to go with the New York-based HOUR GLASS for Todd Pletcher. 

I'm not sure if Hour Glass will be as effective at seven furlongs as she's been at six, but she looked pretty good winning a restricted stakes race over the inner on March 21.  She tracked the pace from the outside, made a three-wide bid on the far turn, and wore down the stubborn pacesetter in the final furlong. 

This will be a major class test for Hour Glass, but Tar Heel Mom, one of my favorite runners, has run three grueling races in South Florida this winter and may be primed for a regression despite catching the kind of wet surface that she adores. 

Matchless Orinda looked awesome in her first start for Marty Wolfson, and then may have found a one-turn mile, coupled with a conservative John Velazquez ride, too much to overcome in the Grade 3 Sabin.  She should be tough from close to the pace, but Hour Glass may be the filly with the most upside of any in the Distaff.

Santa Barbara - Santa Anita - Race 4:
The defection of MEDAGLIA D'AMOUR makes things easier for prohibitive favorite TUSCAN EVENING, and I'll chalk out with her despite the fact that she's unproven at 1 1/4 miles.  She's tactical in a race without much pace and should be well withing striking range when the field turns for home.  She's already outrun her mostly sprint pedigree and a soft pace up front may carry this classy gal the final furlong.

If Tuscan Evening does falter, don't forget about GENERAL CONSENSUS.  She's been in excellent form, winning an optional claimer two back at a mile with an eye-catching late burst of speed before being the only one to make up late ground in Tuscan Evening's Santa Ana win.

Sixty Sails Handicap - Hawthorne - Race 8:
JESSICA IS BACK is the speed of the race, but nine furlongs may be a bit out of her range, and she figures to face some pace pressure in the early going.  That should set things up for a late-runner and Marty Wolfson, Jessica Is Back's trainer, has that base covered with uncoupled stablemate MISS SINGHSIX. 

Miss Singhsix is comfortable at this distance, is making the third start of the form cycle with improving speed figures on display, and she raced in some traffic during the stretch drive of the Grade 3 Rampart Handicap at  Gulfstream on March 20.  I'll look for her to make a nice late run through the long Hawthorne stretch. 

Charles Town Classic - Charles Town - Race 10:
ENCAUSTIC earned FormBlog's unofficial "Performance of the Week" honors for his last two races at Laurel and it's time to find out if he's ready to take it to another level in the $1M Charles Town Classic. 

He's won his last two races in gate-to-wire fashion and looms the speed nearest the rail for this three-turn test under the lights.  There are some quick ones drawn to his outside, however, and Encaustic may end up having to rate off the lead.  While he has won in the past from stalking range, he seems best when able to control the fractions.  Also, nine furlongs has never been his strong suit, but he's in career form, and should offer a decent price at 8-1 on the morning line. 

San Juan Capistrano - Santa Anita - Race 10 (Sunday):
BOURBON BAY has been unstoppable since being stretched to "marathon" distances this winter in Southern California and looms a deserving favorite for Neil Drysdale.  Still, I'm attracted to a lightly-race runner that may have some potential for upward mobility in this spot.  I respect Bourbon Bay, but I'm picking FALCON ROCK. 

A rather nondescript handicapper overseas, Falcon Rock received Lasix for the first time in his stateside debut, and he ran over the top of that entry-level allowance field in the stretch.  This is a big class hike for Falcon Rock, but his last race was a step in the right direction, and that long-winded European pedigree can help him see out this demanding 1 3/4 miles. 

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