11/19/2009 12:00AM

Acoma vulnerable in Churchill stakes


NEW YORK - Considering how busy the stakes action will be over the long Thanksgiving weekend next week, it's not a surprise that this weekend's stakes schedule would be a light one. There are but four Grade 3 events on the calendar, and one of them, the $150,000 Kennedy Road Stakes, is north of the border at Woodbine. The others, each worth $100,000, are the Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct, the Cardinal Handicap at Churchill Downs, and the Hollywood Prevue Stakes at Hollywood Park.

Cardinal Handicap

Acoma as the betting favorite here makes sense. She did win the first three turf starts of her career, two of them graded stakes scores over Churchill's grass course. And in the most recent of those wins, the Mint Julep Handicap in June, Acoma turned back Pure Clan. After that race, Pure Clan went on to win the Modesty and finish a fast-closing third in the Grade 1 Beverly D. at Arlington, win the Grade 1 Flower Bowl at Belmont, and finish a gaining second in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Oak Tree at Santa Anita.

But while Acoma certainly has the class lines necessary to win this race, I would have a tough time betting a favorite like her who was beaten 13 3/4 lengths and 15 1/2 lengths in her last two starts. Granted, beyond possibly being in over her head last time out in the Grade 1 First Lady, in which she finished last of nine, Acoma might simply have disliked the soft turf that prevailed that day. It's more difficult, however, rationalizing Acoma's distant sixth and last in the Delaware Handicap two starts back. Going turf to dirt can't be the explanation, because Acoma had previously won two graded stakes on dirt. And what's particularly troubling about Acoma's effort in Delaware is how she surrendered after chasing the early leader, Swift Temper, through slow fractions on a track that was speed favoring, both of which were big factors in Swift Temper upsetting Icon Project that day.

If Acoma was going to be a good price in this race, I could see trying to get her to rebound. But as the favorite, I'm going to take the position that Acoma has lost her edge and go for Lemon Chiffon instead.

Lemon Chiffon's form isn't overwhelming, but it is good enough to win this if Acoma isn't up to her best. Lemon Chiffon was beaten only two lengths when fourth in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon last time out, running her final quarter-mile, according to DRF's Formulator, in a solid 23.29 seconds. Few in this race would be capable of matching that. She also ran well four starts back at this nine-furlong distance when she was beaten less than two lengths for it all in the Grade 1 Gamely. And Lemon Chiffon did well on Churchill's turf when she ran in the Distaff Turf Mile on the Kentucky Derby undercard. Although Lemon Chiffon finished third in that race, she was beaten only a little more than a length and that was one of those off-going races where the speed just did not come back.

Kennedy Road Stakes

I liked Field Commission when he recorded a mild upset of the Nearctic Stakes last time out, but the setup is different this time. For one, the Nearctic was on turf, and this is on Polytrack. That shouldn't be an issue for Field Commission as he handles synthetics just fine. The problem Field Commission faces this time is that, unlike when he got a reasonable amount of early pace to rally into in the Nearctic, there really isn't much early speed in here at all, and that could compromise his late run.

The lack of breakout speed here might help Jungle Wave, who was third as the favorite in the Nearctic. But having drawn the rail, Jungle Wave will have to go early, and I'm not sure that's his preferred way of running.

I like El Brujo, who was already a multiple stakes winner over this track before signaling he has really arrived with solid graded stakes wins in Kentucky in his last two starts. El Brujo's win most recently in the Perryville at Keeneland is particularly noteworthy as, like this race, that event had a lack of breakaway speed. El Brujo was able to adapt, laying closer early than he might otherwise prefer and yet still was able to finish strongly enough to prove clearly best.

Golden Nugget Stakes

Although he probably wasn't beating very much, Sourdough Sam was almost monster-like winning his first two starts. Admittedly, I don't have a good sense as to what kind of price he'll be in this stakes at Golden Gate, but between the Bob Baffert shipper Tiny Woods and Our Minesweeper, who was beaten for the first time last time out at Oak Tree by Macias (whom I prefer in the Hollywood Prevue, by the way), I'm hoping Sourdough Sam's price will be okay, because he's the play to win again.

In his debut, Sourdough Sam broke last of 12, steadied on the rail behind horses though much of the far turn, checked at the top of the stretch, and still won off by six. Last time out, Sourdough Sam was so full of run on the far turn that it seemed like his rider was standing up on him. And then when he was cut loose in the stretch, Sourdough Sam made up a five-length deficit very quickly with a powerful late run. I'm not sure what kind of horse Sourdough Sam will turn out to be, but right now, he's a running fool.