04/05/2010 11:00PM

Apple Charlotte looks intriguing


NEW YORK - This will be the fifth straight Saturday with at least one Kentucky Derby prep of some significance. But two of the Kentucky Derby preps Saturday threaten to make the ones run the four previous weekends look pale by comparison. Not only do Aqueduct's Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial and the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby boast a cachet many other preps lack, they have real star power. Eskendereya tops the Wood, and Lookin At Lucky heads the Santa Anita Derby, and they are the top two favorites for the Kentucky Derby by a substantial margin. And joining the Wood and Santa Anita Derby as a lucrative final-round Triple Crown prep Saturday is the Grade 3, $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne.

Getting back to the Wood and Santa Anita Derby, they head stakes-filled cards at their respective tracks. On the Wood undercard at Aqueduct are the Grade 1, $250,000 Carter, the Grade 3, $200,000 Bay Shore, and the Grade 3 Excelsior Handicap. At Santa Anita, a trio of Grade 2, $150,000 races will also be run - the Arcadia and Potrero Grande handicaps, and the Providencia Stakes.

Elsewhere, the Grade 1, $400,000 Ashland heads the first Saturday program of the Keeneland spring meet, while the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap tops the next-to-last Saturday card of the Oaklawn Park session.

Ashland Stakes

She Be Wild, last year's 2-year-old filly champion, returns Saturday at Keeneland to a synthetic track, the kind of surface over which she has had all of her success. She will be greeted by Negligee, who is the only one to have ever beaten She Be Wild on a synthetic track, and Negligee did it right at Keeneland in the Alcibiades last fall. She Be Wild will also again face Beautician, who fell less than a length shy of She Be Wild in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. And even though it's obvious each of these three has the credentials to win a race like the Ashland, I don't trust any of them.

She Be Wild certainly might relish the surface switch. But I don't like that she never really ran a step when a soundly beaten fifth in her only start this year, the Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream, even if that race was on dirt. And the fact that She Be Wild was a program scratch from the Florida Oaks three weeks ago just doesn't sit right with me.

Negligee will be making her first start back from a five-month absence, and that's too long of a layoff for me in a race like this. And as for Beautician, she was a good second in her seasonal debut and has a license to improve. But seconds have been a problem for her after six starts at the stakes level, she has yet to close the deal.

I'm going with Apple Charlotte. I admit that it is a risk taking a filly in a spot like this who has never run on anything but turf, but her excellent turf form bodes well for a successful transition to synthetic, and she should be a big enough price to make the risk worthwhile.

In any case, Apple Charlotte showed monster potential when she closed almost 10 lengths in the final furlong when second in her debut, and followed with two wins. But she really should have three straight wins coming into this because she was tons the best when a narrowly beaten second last time out in the Herecomesthebride Stakes. Apple Charlotte had to check early when squeezed back from between horses, and was next to last early with zero pace to shoot at. Nevertheless, she made a huge move on the far turn, only to clip heels turning for home, losing all of her momentum. After all that, Apple Charlotte still finished strongly, only to just run out of ground.

Potrero Grande Handicap

A look at Ventana's last two performances makes it clear that he will take some beating here, but it also makes you feel bad for Bob Black Jack. Two starts back, Ventana lost a close decision in the Palos Verdes to Kinsale King, who came back to win last Saturday's Dubai Golden Shaheen. Last time out, Ventana was a no-match second to Bob Black Jack in the San Carlos. That's a small indication of just how good Bob Black Jack was when healthy, which makes it a real shame that he subsequently sustained a probable career-ending injury.

Getting back to Ventana, sure, he can win this, but I prefer Gato Go Win. Gato Go Win showed genuine ability early in his career when he finished ahead of such top early 2009 3-year-olds as I Want Revenge and The Pamplemousse. Gato Go Win's 3-year-old campaign was punctuated by a bunch of layoff lines, but he came back early this year off a seven-month absence to win. He gamely turned back an opponent who came back to win his next start with a 101 Beyer Figure, and I like that he has been given plenty of time to recover from what was likely a draining effort while still posting a purposeful workout line.

Illinois Derby

Two things jump out at me in this race. First is the uncertainty concerning the dirt abilities of the California shippers, the most prominent of whom are American Lion and Dave in Dixie. The other thing is the lack of genuine early speed.

I like Yawanna Twist. Dirt certainly isn't an issue for Yawanna Twist as he crushed New York-breds at Aqueduct in his first two starts before finishing a gaining second to the highly regarded Awesome Act in the Gotham Stakes most recently. The pace in the Gotham was strong, and given the positional speed he showed sprinting before that, and the lack of pace here, I wouldn't be surprised to see Yawanna Twist forwardly placed from the start Saturday.

As for the Wood and Santa Anita Derby, I don't think Eskendereya's huge win last time in the Fountain of Youth was in any way a fluke. The Florida Derby result validated that form, and I expect Eskendereya to win at a short price. But I think Lookin At Lucky might be vulnerable at a short price. I think Sidney's Candy will get loose on the lead again like he did when he won the San Felipe, only I think he's primed now for an even stronger performance.