05/31/2006 11:00PM

Ambitious Cat ready to peak


NEW YORK - Hollywood Park has the richest race on Saturday's national stakes schedule in the Grade 2, $175,000 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap, which attracted a field of only five. But Churchill Downs offers a stakes tripleheader comprising the Dogwood BC Stakes and the Aristides BC Handicap, which are both Grade 3 $150,000 events, as well as the $100,000 Opening Verse Handicap. Plus, Churchill runs an overnight turf sprint stakes. The main event at Belmont Park is the $100,000 Sands Point Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the turf, but wet weather forecast for the Northeast Friday into Saturday could have a severe impact on that event.

Nassau Stakes

Woodbine's headliner, with a purse of $300,000 Canadian, is actually the richest race on the continent Saturday, and Ambitious Cat is the play to enjoy a successful homecoming.

Ambitious Cat was a fast-closing and narrowly beaten second in this race last year, and she reaffirmed her affinity for Woodbine's unique turf course in her last start of 2005 when a close third in the E.P. Taylor Stakes behind Honey Ryder, whose victories in the Orchid Handicap and last week's Sheepshead Bay Handicap established her as one of the very best active turf mares in North America. And as well as Ambitious Cat ran in this race last year, she actually comes into Saturday's assignment in sneaky better form. She not only ran respectably finishing fifth in both the Honey Fox and Jenny Wiley in her first two starts this year, but subsequent form has proven that those races were particularly tough events.

Certainly, sharp New York shipper Naissance Royale is the one Ambitious Cat must beat. But Naissance Royale is a funny kind of horse who tends to hang when she gets the lead too soon, and there might not be enough speed in this race to carry her long enough for her to be most effective.

Opening Verse Handicap

Senor Swinger has established a reputation as a specialist on the turf at Churchill, where he is 5 for 9. But even with that and the fact that he comes out of the toughest races in this field this year in Southern California, I doubt there is enough early speed in this race to set up his late run.

With that in mind, Purim is the one to bet. Purim prepped for this with an easy win last time out on the grass in a soft spot at Arlington Park, and although he is effective on both turf and dirt, he rarely runs a bad race on turf. Purim is best when he can employ his pace-pressing speed, and he can use that to full effect in this spot.

Aristides BC Handicap

Well, my old "friend" Lost in the Fog makes his second start of the year in this event hoping to stop a two-race losing streak that, even if he is the reigning champion sprinter, has put a ding in his reputation. Lost in the Fog now is facing stronger, older sprinters who have enough sustained speed to prevent him from breaking open the race around the far turn, such as he did when he dominated weaker company during his 10-race win streak last year. Although Lost in the Fog might improve second time out this year, there is enough speed to keep him busy through the second quarter-mile, and I'm going to try and beat him with Kelly's Landing.

Kelly's Landing ran huge winning this race last year, but sustained an injury in his subsequent start at Saratoga that kept him out until early this year. He returned with a strong win at Gulfstream, only to be a badly beaten last in the Commonwealth BC, an effort that can be attributed to one of those fluky type of efforts often seen at Keeneland. His sharp effort most recently at Churchill was encouraging, however, and I believe he is cycling back to a peak performance. If he is, that would give even the in-form Lost in the Fog a good bit of trouble.


Woodbine: Nassau Stakes
Fillies and mares, 3 and up, 1 1/16 miles, turf

Approximate post: Eastern-3:40 p.m., Central-2:40 p.m., Mountain-1:40 p.m., Pacific-12:40 p.m.; Rexdale, Ontario, Canada, forecast: Partly cloudy, 73¦

1Ambitious Cat9292964-1
2Black Rock Road7586866-1
3Hallowed Dream9287873-1
5Ballroom Deputy82918412-1
7Naissance Royale10086979-5

Track morning line odds

Churchill Downs: Opening Verse Handicap
3 and up, 1 1/16 miles, turf

Approximate post: E-4:54 p.m., C-3:54 p.m., M-2:54 p.m., P-1:54 p.m.; Louisville, Ky., forecast: Sunny, 80¦

2Free Thinking10193794-1
3Everything to Gain90971008-1
4On the Acorn6793848-1
5Mad Adam62787520-1
6Senor Swinger981011022-1
7Rush Bay10187746-1

Odds by Steve Klein

Churchill Downs: Aristides B.C. Handicap
3 and up, 6 furlongs

Approximate post: E-5:58 p.m., C-4:58 p.m., M-3:58 p.m., P-2:58 p.m.; Louisville, Ky., forecast: Sunny, 80¦

1Yes Yes Yes97821035-1
2Cougar Cat8293948-1
3Exciting Metro9583906-1
4Level Playingfield98911015-1
5Lost in the Fog97981143-1
6Pro Prado9398975-1
7Kelly's Landing95561084-1

Odds by Steve Klein