08/07/2010 8:06AM

Zenyatta + Quality Road = Coast to Coast Starpower


It's a star-studded weekend of racing with Zenyatta seeking her eighteenth straight win in the Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar while Quality Road headlines the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga.

If that doesn't excite you, check to see if you're still breathing. If you are and you're still not interested, I'll throw in a contentious running of the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga, an interesting edition of the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer, and a fascinating renewal of the Alfred G. Vanderbilt at the Spa on Sunday.

Here are one man's opinions on some of the upcoming races:

Test - Saratoga - Race 9:

It's a shame that morning line favorite FRANNY FREUD was injured earlier in the week. It's a tough blow for the connections, the horse herself, and for gamblers that were looking to bet against the chalk. PICA SLEW, my top selection, may go off at underlaid odds thanks to the scratch. After beginning her career in underwhelming style in a polytrack stakes race at Woodbine last year, Pica Slew reeled off three impressive wins at Calder when returned to the races in the Spring. Last time out, in the Grade 3 Azalea on Summit of Speed afternoon, Pica Slew showed a new dimension by rating off a runaway speed before reeling that one in with ease. She earned a big figure in that spot and has worked a quick half-mile over the Saratoga main track in preparation for the Test.
Pica Slew may have some difficulty with the inside post, however, and she's never tried seven furlongs. She does have good gate speed, but with CHAMPAGNE D'ORO parked to her outside, it's questionable whether she'll make the lead. Manoel Cruz is going to have to work out a good trip with Pica Slew, but I don't want to take too short of a price. Still, I think she's talented enough to overcome.
Selections: Pica Slew, Tidal Pool, Bonnie Blue Flag

Hattie Moseley - Saratoga - Race 8:

Speaking of tough post positions and low-price horses doing something they've never previously attempted, let's take a look at AILALEA in the Hattie Moseley Stakes. Mired in the outside post position for this one-mile event over the inner turf, the Hattie Moseley will be Ailalea's first try on the grass. On her best day, though, she is the best horse. Ailalea, a multiple Grade 3 winner at this distance, will drop in class following six straight graded efforts. Her recent works indicate that her trainer, Todd Pletcher, has been planning turf for Ailalea. The July 11 workout matches up with Pletcher's Interactif and six days following that half-mile breeze on grass, Interactif finished second in the Virginia Derby. On July 18, Ailalea's workout time mirrored that of Phola, an older mare that was only beaten 1 1/4 lengths in the Grade 1 Diana on July 31.
There is speed to her inside and the early pace could set things up for a stalker or late-runner. Ailalea fits that profile. It's up to Edgar Prado to save some ground going into the clubhouse turn.
Selections: Ailalea, Barracks Road, Snow Top Mountain

West Virginia Derby - Mountaineer - Race 8:

CONCORD POINT is the logical favorite after setting the track record in the Grade 3 Iowa Derby on June 26, but I didn't like the way he raced on his wrong lead in the stretch that day and he's done a great deal of traveling in the interim. He should work out a nice outside stalking trip under Martin Garcia, but I'll take a stand against him with NACHO FRIEND.
Last time out, in the four-horse Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth, Nacho Friend somehow ended up four paths wide every step of the way. He made a nice run on the far turn, but didn't have enough in the tank to finish with the promising Trappe Shot, who returned to finish second to Lookin At Lucky in the Haskell. Nacho Friend draws inside here and can work out a pace-tracking, ground-saving trip under Joe Bravo.
Selections: Nacho Friend, Concord Point, Exhi

Clement L. Hirsch - Del Mar - Race 9:

Umm, can you say ZENYATTA? The pace in the Clement L. Hirsch should be strong with several speed horses entered. That should set things up for the Reflection of Perfection, not that she needs the extra help. On paper, she's a cinch to win her eighteenth straight. Of course, stranger things have happened...
Selections: Zenyatta, Rinterval, Princess Taylor

Whitney - Saratoga - Race 10:

All eyes will be on QUALITY ROAD, two for two at this nine-furlong distance with a pair of track record performances under his girth. He projects to go right to the top in the Whitney and he should be pretty tough to catch.
Still, I will be interested to see how HAYNESFIELD's early speed affects the outcome of the race. Haynesfield figures to be in closest attendance to Quality Road early and if he pushes the Pletcher colt, it may set things up for a late runner.
The underrated, yet excellent BLAME figures to benefit from an early duel, but so may MUSKET MAN at bigger odds. Musket Man loomed boldly in the Met Mile before flattening out in the final furlong to finish second behind Quality Road and, despite a win in last year's Illinois Derby, is a bit questionable at the trip. Still, things might work out for him pacewise and he's worth a small play at good odds.
Selections: Musket Man, Quality Road, Haynesfield

Alfred G. Vanderbilt - Saratoga - Race 9 (Sunday):

MAJESTICPERFRECTION's 117 Beyer Speed Figure from his track record performance in the Iowa Spring Handicap will likely attract a great deal of attention, but he hopped back to his wrong lead in the waning strides of that race when looking a bit fatigued. He'll get a bigger test in the Vanderbilt with the consistent BIG DRAMA drawn to his inside.
Big Drama is more tactically-inclined than Majesticperfection and will make the third start of the form cycle following a professional win in the Grade 2 Smile Sprint at Calder. That afternoon, Big Drama prompted the pace while three wide, took over at will turning for home, and had enough to hold off the troubled MAMBO MEISTER. Big Drama can lead or stalk and will get the jump on the closers once again in the Vanderbilt.
Selections: Big Drama, Majesticperfection, Bribon

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

Back Monday with questions, comments, and more.