07/19/2007 12:00AM

Bees live bomber in turf debut


NEW YORK - There are several rich races on Saturday, and it might be a sign of the times that only one of them, the $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park, will be run on a conventional dirt surface. The $300,000 San Diego Handicap will be run on Del Mar's new Polytrack surface. Beyond that, the focus is on turf. That's the footing on which the $1 million Virginia Derby and the $200,000 Virginia Oaks will be run at Colonial Downs. Also on turf are Arlington's three stakes on its Million Preview Day, the American Derby, Arlington Handicap, and Modesty Handicap.

Virginia Oaks

Dreaming of Anna and Bit of Whimsy will attract significant play, but both are suspect. Dreaming of Anna is a big question mark at the 1 1/8-mile distance, and this will be a much tougher group than Bit of Whimsy faced in her dead-heat win most recently in the Sands Point.

Although this will be her turf debut, I like Bees. Bees ran well in both of her starts on Keeneland's Polytrack - she was beaten a neck by recent Grade 1 American Oaks winner Panty Raid there last April - and since turf horses tend to like Polytrack, that bodes well for a successful transition to grass. So, too, does the fact that Bees is trained by Graham Motion, who as conditioner of the major turf stakes winners Better Talk Now and Film Maker certainly knows a good grass horse when he sees one. The only time she finished worse than third was last time out when fourth in the Susan's Girl Breeders' Cup, but that race was so strong that the one-two finishers, Moon Catcher and Winning Point, came back to finish one-two in last week's Delaware Oaks.

San Diego Handicap

On opening day Wednesday, Del Mar's Polytrack didn't quite turn out to be the paradise for closers it seemed that it might be after the first race was run on it. Still, the surface strikes me as reminiscent of Keeneland's in that there could well be a premium on fitness and the ability to finish, qualities that will become even more important in two-turn races like this. With that in mind, I'm going against prime contenders like Arson Squad, who hasn't raced since he won the Strub in February, and Buzzards Bay, who is most effective when close to the pace. I have this down to Awesome Gem and Sun Boat, and I'll take Sun Boat since he will offer bigger odds.

Sun Boat looks like a new horse since the Mike Mitchell claim three starts back. He won a claimer at Hollywood first off the claim, notably in his first start on a synthetic surface, running much faster in terms of Beyer Speed Figures than he ever had before. That encouraged his people to take a shot last time out in the Californian, and Sun Boat nearly pulled off a 25-1 upset, coming from way back to lose by a nose to Buzzards Bay.

Arlington Handicap

Cosmonaut won't be easy to beat. He won this race last year, probably should have won the Dixie two starts back, and was close to such top-notch turf horses as Better Talk Now and English Channel last time out in the Manhattan. But he has won only 3 of his last 17 starts, and he won't offer any betting value.

Go Between is an appealing betting alternative. Go Between didn't perform up to par in his last two starts, but had trouble at the gate both times. He has been freshened and has a good recent workout line. And at his best, Go Between is certainly competitive with this group, as evidenced by his win in last year's Virginia Derby, his third to Lava Man in the Sunshine Millions Turf, and his close fourth behind the good trio of Jambalaya, Honey Ryder, and Einstein in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup.