07/11/2013 3:10PM

Arlington Park: Strathnaver would benefit from firm turf in Modesty Handicap

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Keeneland/Coady Photography
Strathnaver is 2 for 3 in the United States, including a score in the Grade 3 Bewitch at Keeneland in April.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – There’s a tendency to think that European imports have a natural inclination to perform optimally on soft turf. That thought might hold true in a general sense, but it does not apply to the 4-year-old filly Strathnaver.

During the English phase of her career, Strathnaver raced only on good or good-to-firm turf, and the May 25 Sheepshead Bay at Belmont Park showed why. The race was run on a boggy course, and Strathnaver didn’t run at all, slogging home a distant seventh, a far cry from the exciting ability she’d shown in her first two North American starts.

“I’d be reluctant to try her on soft turf again,” trainer Graham Motion said. “She didn’t handle it very well, but she’s had plenty of time to recover.”

Gorgeous Chicago weather this week will have the Arlington turf just the way Strathnaver likes it Saturday, and she can rebound in the Grade 3, $200,000 Modesty Handicap. Strathnaver was one of eight fillies and mares entered in the 1 3/16-mile race, and she is one of three obvious contenders, along with Colonial Flag and La Tia.

Strathnaver won her U.S. debut at Gulfstream Park in March at the Modesty’s distance, displaying sharp acceleration on the far turn to take control of a slow-paced race. She won the Grade 3 Bewitch at Keeneland in April going 1 1/2 miles by making multiple moves and despite racing wide around the final turn. Strathnaver might be hard to contain on firm going Saturday, when Eddie Castro will ride the filly for the first time.

Colonial Flag shipped with Strathnaver on a flight from Maryland and looks like her major competition in the Modesty. A large, late-maturing filly, Colonial Flag makes the second start of her 4-year-old season Saturday and should improve upon a third-place finish in the June 8 Mint Julep Handicap. Miz Ida validated the Mint Julep form with a fine second in the James Penny Memorial at Parx Racing, and Colonial Flag, eager to run in her first race after a layoff, pulled harder than would have been ideal in the early part of her comeback run.

“I think she’ll like those big turns at Arlington,” trainer Michael Matz said. “If she ran well, the Beverly D. would be in the back of our mind. I think she might be that quality.”

The Illinois-bred La Tia has won her two races this year impressively and will control the Modesty pace. But even accounting for her win in the Grade 3 Arlington Oaks last year, La Tia never has faced rivals as strong as she meets in the Modesty.

Dark Cove aims for third straight

Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey and trainer Mike Maker claimed Dark Cove for $50,000 in April 2012, and the horse didn’t start for them until January 2013, but Dark Cove has been a raging success nonetheless.

Dark Cove won the Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland and the Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs this spring, and on Saturday, he’ll be favored to make it three straight when he starts in the Grade 3, $150,000 Stars and Stripes Stakes.

Dark Cove was one of only six entrants in the 1 1/2-mile Stars and Stripes. Suntracer was cross-entered in the Arlington Handicap but is more likely to stick to this spot.

Dark Cove was a more convincing winner at Keeneland than Churchill, and he drifted out while holding on for a half-length victory in the Louisville Handicap. In the Stars and Stripes, Dark Cove faces Chris Block-trained challengers from the front and back ends of the race.

Ioya Bigtime, the 2012 Stars and Stripes winner, will set the pace and on a clear lead can do much better than his fifth-place finish in the Louisville. If Dark Cove, who has tactical speed, takes him on early, then the late-running Suntracer, an onrushing third in the 2012 Stars and Stripes, can join the fray in the stretch.

The Pizza Man, an Illinois-bred, has an outside shot, while Live in Joy appears overmatched, and Doctor Trotter even more so.

◗ The $65,000 Coach Jimi Lee, for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs on Polytrack, could boil down to a rematch of last summer’s Arlington-Washington Futurity. Pataky Kid reeled in the pacesetting Muppet Man to win the Futurity, and the two horses are part of a deep field for the Coach Jimi Lee. Mongolian Saturday, who would have been a major player in the race, is cross-entered in the American Derby and will run in that spot.