04/21/2010 11:00PM

Aikenite needs to change tactics


NEW YORK - We may be only one week out from the Kentucky Derby, but Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs might - shades of the old days - actually produce a starter for next week's Derby. Pleasant Prince has enough graded earnings that a win in this race would secure him a starting spot in the Derby. That is why he is running in the Derby Trial. Eightyfiveinafifty, whose connections have expressed an interest in running in the Derby, would, with a win in the Derby Trial, be just short of the necessary graded earnings to start in the Derby as the prospective field stands as of Thursday. Aikenite, with a win in the Derby Trial, would have more than enough graded earnings to start in the Derby. But Aikenite's connections have said he is no longer under consideration for the Derby.

Other stakes of note Saturday include the Grade 3, $200,000 Texas Mile at Lone Star Park, the Grade 2, $150,000 San Francisco Mile on the turf at Golden Gate, and the Grade 3, $150,000 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct. Saturday is also California Gold Rush Day at Hollywood Park, with the $200,000 Snow Chief Stakes heading the four major stakes on the card for California-breds.

Derby Trial

Pleasant Prince's nose loss to Ice Box in the Florida Derby two starts back was costly. That narrow difference put Ice Box safely in the Kentucky Derby field, but Pleasant Prince has since had to scramble to gain his Derby berth. That's why he ran in the Blue Grass two weeks ago, although "ran" is a loose usage of the term. He finished a soundly beaten seventh without excuse. Granted, Pleasant Prince might not have fired his best shot on Keeneland's Polytrack, and he might appreciate the switch back to dirt on Saturday. But Pleasant Prince's dull try in the Blue Grass was a lot like his distant fourth in the Fountain of Youth three starts back, and those two races bracketing his Florida Derby makes his near-miss in the Florida Derby look like the aberration. At least it does to me.

As for Eightyfiveinafifty, he has real talent, but he's also a bit of a nut job. When he won the Bay Shore Stakes last time out, he was erratic in the early stages and then tried to get out in the stretch even though he should have been more focused with blinkers on. He's hard to trust right now despite his ability. I actually fear what he might do in the long run down the backstretch here breaking from the outside post.

I like Aikenite in the hopes that he will return to his most effective running style, which is closing. Aikenite showed he could be effective coming from well off the pace last year when a narrowly beaten second in the Breeders' Futurity and third in the Hopeful. But for some reason, he was much too close to the early lead in the Holy Bull in his first start this year, and in the Blue Grass most recently. The only time this year Aikenite really sat off the early pace was in the Fountain of Youth, and it was his best performance this year. Yes, Aikenite was beaten a long way by Eskendereya in the Fountain of Youth, but he was beaten less than a length for second while finishing ahead of both Pleasant Prince and Ice Box. And while Eightyfiveinafifty might be the best speed in this race, other potential pace players such as Hear Ye Hear Ye, Wow Wow Wow, Hurricane Ike, and Privilaged should ensure a lively pace, and allow Aikenite to drop back early and make one big run.

San Francisco Mile

As I noted when I picked him in the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile early last March, I believe Red Sun is an important turf horse waiting to happen. Red Sun wound up not running in the Kilroe. He was scratched and won an overnight race the next day. But I feel the same way about him, and I'm going with Red Sun here even though he is facing for the first time some opponents who are heavily seasoned when it comes to graded stakes racing.

Red Sun has turned in some "wow" performances in his brief career, most notably a win at this distance on Hollywood's turf course late last year, and a score on the downhill course at Santa Anita early this year in which he displayed both eye-catching early speed and impressive late acceleration. But while Red Sun likes the early lead, I don't believe he needs it to be at his best, which is important because the speedy Monterey Jazz is also in here, and he is entirely capable of opening up big early if so inclined. The thing is, Monterey Jazz and the venerable Bold Chieftain, who has won 5 of his last 6, are veterans who aren't going to get any better than they are right now. Red Sun, on the other hand, might already be as good as these horses, yet after only five starts, he has every right to get better.

Texas Mile

Trying a horse like Euroears in a two-turn race at Lone Star like the Texas Mile is an inspired idea, because if a quality sprinter like Euroears can't get a mile around two turns with the short stretch at Lone Star, then he probably won't be able to get two turns anywhere. But while I respect Euroears here because he is easily the fastest early, I can also envision horses such as Becky's Express, King Dan, and Jonesboro (who won this race last year over King Dan) going up and putting serious pressure on Euroears going into the far turn, and thus setting up this race to be won from off the pace.

I'm going with Star Guitar to capitalize on such a scenario. Star Guitar, who is easily the best Louisiana- bred out there, ran well against established graded stakes company when fourth in the New Orleans Handicap last time out. Star Guitar went up and tried Battle Plan, who won the New Orleans Cap in the manner of a serious horse, and was only edged in the late stages for third by Awesome Gem, who came back to be second in last week's Charles Town Classic to Charles Town freak Researcher.