11/04/2004 12:00AM

Aspen Tree can turn the tables


NEW YORK - The most important racing Saturday can be found at Aqueduct and Churchill, with each track offering a pair of stakes events. At Aqueduct, the main attraction is the Grade 2, $150,000 Long Island Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on the turf, backed up by the Grade 3, $100,000 Turnback the Alarm Handicap at nine furlongs on the main track. Both races are for fillies and mares.

At Churchill, 2-year-olds are in the spotlight in two $100,000 stakes at one mile. The Grade 3 Iroquois is open to males, with the Pocahontas its the female equivalent.

Here are my spotlight stakes, in order of preference:


Kota, Ragtime Hope, Im a Dixie Girl, and Punch Appeal all have won stakes, and they make up half of this field. But I suspect the real strength in this race lies with two fillies who come out of a strongly run allowance race at Keeneland: Burnish and Aspen Tree. Even though Burnish took a half-length decision from Aspen Tree in that event, Aspen Tree is bet to turn the tables.

Burnish enjoyed a trouble-free trip in her Keeneland victory, but Aspen Tree did not. After making a menacing move to the leaders, Aspen Tree was blocked behind them in upper stretch. She eventually did angle to the rail for racing room, and the rail is always a good place to be at Keeneland. But, the momentum Aspen Tree lost while looking for room certainly cost her more than the half-length she was beaten.

Moreover, Aspen Tree was making her first start with Lasix that day, and she managed to run considerably faster - she improved 24 Beyer Speed Figure points up to an 86 - than she did when she won her only previous start, at Ellis Park. With this only her third career start, Aspen Tree is certainly eligible to demonstrate another Beyer Figure improvement, especially since her running style suggests she will love the stretch-out in distance to a one-turn mile.


This is another race where there is an excellent chance that the newcomers to stakes racing will overshadow those with stakes experience. Here's why: Greater Good will be making his first start since winning the Kentucky Cup Juvenile, a race that fell completely apart after a fast early pace. Greater Good merely came along and picked up the pieces. Yet, despite his perfect set up, he was able to earn a Beyer of only 81. Chief Commander and Highgrove come into this off maiden victories on the same day at Keeneland, and they earned Beyers that are already tops in this field, an 86 and 83, respectively.

Since Chief Commander won the faster division of that maiden race at Keeneland, he is the selection. He made mincemeat of a 3-5 shot who finished 12 lengths clear of the third finisher, and did so after being an aggressive part of a pace that was also faster than the other division.

Turnback the Alarm

The unusual thing about this race is that the best horses in it - the razor-sharp 3-year-old Capeside Lady, Roar Emotion, and Pocus Hocus, who galloped in this race last year - all conduct their business on or close to the front end. So, in the search for an off-the-pace prospect, I'm going with Personal Legend to make a successful turf to dirt switch.

The last time Personal Legend went from turf to dirt was early this year, and she was a rallying second in the El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita against a field that was not appreciably weaker than this. It also helps that she is being reunited with Jerry Bailey, with whom she won twice and finished second in three starts before her last race.


Churchill Downs: Pocahontas Stakes
Fillies, 2-years-old, 1 mile

Approximate post: Eastern-4:02 p.m., Central-3:02 p.m., Mountain-2:02 p.m., Pacific-1:02 p.m.; Louisville, Ky., forecast: Sunny, 60 degrees

1Quiet Optimism73556115-1
4Hot Storm67574720-1
5Ragtime Hope74746110-1
6Im a Dixie Girl7256877-2
7Aspen Tree8662-6-1
8Punch Appeal7684697-2

Most recent Beyer listed first
odds by Steve Klein

Aqueduct: Turnback the Alarm Handicap
Fillies and mares, 3 and up, 1 1/8 miles

Approximate post: E-4:05 p.m., C-3:05 p.m., M-2:05 p.m., P-1:05 p.m.; Ozone Park, N. Y., forecast: Partly cloudy, 55 degrees

1Personal Legend8998945-1
2Capeside Lady1031061032-1
3Misty Sixes92889510-1
4Fast Cookie87939212-1
5Pocus Hocus9286918-1
7Roar Emotion67102693-1
8Fortunate Damsel94919520-1
9Cloakof Vagueness89929315-1

Odds by Brian Pochman

Churchill Downs: Iroquois Stakes
2-year-olds, 1 mile

Approximate post: E-5:00 p.m., C-4:00 p.m., M-3:00 p.m., P-2:00 p.m.; Louisville, Ky., forecast: Sunny, 60 degrees

1Social Probation61726910-1
2Straight Line8380475-2
3Can't Trick Jake8067-5-1
5Greater Good8173583-1
6Chief Commander8641365-1

Odds by Steve Klein