09/29/2016 1:46PM

Awesome Banner, Ballet Diva may be vulnerable favorites

Lauren King/Coglianese Photos
The one-mile distance of the Foolish Pleasure may not be ideal for probable favorite Awesome Banner.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Awesome Banner and Ballet Diva were fast, precocious, early developers, but the edge they once held over many of their peers has waned, and both are opposable in divisions of the Florida Sire Stakes on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

Awesome Banner is one of eight entered in race 6, the $150,000 Foolish Pleasure, and he’s likely to be favored, as usual. He has been odds-on in his last four starts while only winning two of them.

On Aug. 6 in the Unbridled, Awesome Banner finished second at odds of 1-20, and though he won the Prized on Sept. 3, he appeared to work hard for a narrow victory.

On the plus side, the typically front-running Awesome Banner revealed a new dimension last out, rating outside and behind rivals, but it looked until the three-sixteenths pole or so like he might not fire at all.

Trainer Mark Casse sent Awesome Banner to an Ocala, Fla., farm between the Unbridled and the Prized and did the same thing between the Prized and Saturday’s race. But in the Foolish Pleasure, Awesome Banner will stretch out under regular rider Tyler Gaffalione from seven furlongs to a one-turn mile, which might not be a good thing.

“It’s a bit of a concern,” Casse said. “His two route races were kind of ugly, but it may just be the two turns.”

There is, unfortunately, no clear alternative to the favorite. Dream of Me beat Awesome Banner going six furlongs in the Unbridled but has failed to finish with good energy in four starts at seven furlongs and is unlikely to do any better at a mile. Mr. Kisses was just nipped in the Prized, but he, too, might not really want to run this far. Danbury holds some interest as a stalking type who might get a decent setup and showed some improvement in the Prized, his second start after a break.

Ballet Diva, one of five fillies in race 2, the $150,000 Meadow Star, starts for the same owner, Jacks or Better Farm, and trainer as Awesome Banner, but Edgard Zayas rides. Zayas should find himself on the lead, but Ballet Diva figures to struggle to stay one mile.

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According to Casse, Ballet Diva had minor surgery to repair an entrapped epiglottis after finishing sixth in the Three Ring Stakes, and she was much better Sept. 3 in the Jewel Princess, where she set the pace and stayed on gamely before succumbing in deep stretch.

The filly who caught her was the Meadow Star’s most likely winner, R Kinsley Doll. Ballet Diva would have whipped R Kinsley Doll a year ago, and just three races back, R Kinsley Doll started for a $30,000 claiming tag. But she has improved sharply, winning two divisions of the Sire Stakes this summer, is well drawn in post 5, and should get the mile after finishing solidly enough at seven furlongs.

◗ Todd Pletcher has started only six horses at Gulfstream since July 1, but this is the time of year when Pletcher-trained stock starts to trickle back into winter quarters in south Florida, and he has runners in both the $75,000 turf-mile stakes for 2-year-olds Saturday, the Armed Forces and the Our Dear Peg.

In the Armed Forces, race 3, Pletcher sends out Sonic Mule, who is one of eight entrants and no worse than second choice off a third-place finish in the $103,000 Sapling Stakes on Sept. 4 at Monmouth. A debut winner at Monmouth, Sonic Mule got too much of a hot pace and faded out of contention in the Saratoga Special, but he was better when stretching out to a two-turn mile in the Sapling. His sire, Distorted Humor, lends hope for his turf debut, though his dam, the A.P. Indy mare Globe Trot, showed nothing in two grass starts.

Sweetontheladies, who won his debut in July by a neck and a first-level allowance race Aug. 19 by more than three lengths, will break from the rail. Both races were dirt sprints, but trainer Henry Collazo said he thinks Sweetontheladies will go long and handle turf.

“I was surprised he popped out of there on the lead like he did,” Collazo said. “I never really thought of him as a sprinter.”

Exclusively Ours only won a $50,000 maiden claimer last out but did so in a two-turn turf race and might have a fast pace at which to run and ought to be a fair price.

The fillies’ race, the Our Dear Peg, has a stronger field than the Armed Forces, and Pletcher’s starter, Bahama Halo, looks more solid than Sonic Mule in the Armed Forces. Bahama Halo won a Belmont turf sprint by open lengths in her second start and didn’t get an ideal trip while facing stronger competition than she meets Saturday when fifth in the $100,000 P.G. Johnson at Saratoga.

Others have a chance, however. Southern Sis was fifth of 12 on Sept. 3 in the $343,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Fillies, a race won by the promising Lull, and won a maiden sprint on this course in July. Silver Diva and Backstage both won turf-route races locally at this meet, with Silver Diva making her first start since being purchased by Arindel Farm and turned over to trainer Ronny Werner.

◗ Diamond Bachelor had lost 28 races in a row before he won The Vid Stakes here Sept. 3, but his chances of replacing a losing streak with a winning streak are pace-dependent. Diamond Bachelor stole off to an easy lead in The Vid but could take more pace pressure Saturday in the $75,000 Mr. Steele Stakes while facing stronger competition.

Pletcher runs Savoy Stomp, who finished seventh last out in his turf debut at Saratoga but was beaten less than three lengths. Also absent from The Vid was Copingaway, who won a second-level allowance at Saratoga last out while making his 17th start of 2016.

But the pick to win is Enterprising, who, despite the slow pace, came home strongly for second behind Diamond Bachelor on Sept. 3.

◗ Pink Poppy was a fair-priced 7-2 winner of the Wasted Tears on Sept. 3, a race that had Daring Kathy as an overbet odds-on favorite, but Pink Poppy was only workmanlike in that victory and probably won’t offer value Saturday in the $75,000 Panama City. Daring Kathy, who missed the board in the Wasted Tears, is back for another try, but she still looks like a turf sprinter in a turf-route race, and bettors might do well digging deeper than those two in race 11.