01/14/2010 1:00AM

The best horse - and value, too


NEW YORK - Santa Anita has a lock on all the graded stakes activity in the nation Saturday, with three such races on its card. The San Fernando, the second leg of Santa Anita's Strub series, and the Santa Ynez are both Grade 2 races, while the San Rafael Stakes, a two-turn event for 3-year-olds, is a Grade 3.

The San Rafael isn't the only two-turn race for 3-year-olds on the schedule Saturday. Also to be run is the $100,000 California Derby at Golden Gate.

At Gulfstream Park, the hope is that the forecasted rain stays away, as both $100,000 stakes on the card are scheduled to be run on turf. They are the Marshua's River for older females and the Dania Beach for 3-year-olds.

Marshua's River Stakes

Only one horse in the main body of this race has had a start within the last two months. And that horse, Lomaki, looks to be in too deep. Otherwise, everyone else in this field comes into this off layoffs ranging from two to seven months.

So, it would make sense to focus more on the horses coming off the shorter rests, right? Wrong. While I wouldn't be shocked if one of those coming off shorter layoffs, like Belle Allure, Bluegrass Princess, or maybe even Lady Shakespeare, won this race, I actually like the horse coming into this race off the longest layoff, Backseat Rhythm.

Backseat Rhythm has been away seven months, but that doesn't concern me. I believe that Backseat Rhythm is clearly the best horse in this race. But the layoff, combined with three performances before she went away that at first glance look subpar, presents a situation where betting value could be had on who I think is the best horse in the race.

The reason why I believe Backseat Rhythm is best here goes back to the form she displayed late in her 3-year-old season and early last year at 4. She impressed when she dominated the 2008 Lake Placid Stakes and followed with a win over the accomplished Pure Clan in the Garden City and a second in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, both of which are Grade 1 events.

Backseat Rhythm's first start last year came in the graded The Very One Stakes. That was not an easy spot, as she was being asked to go 11 furlongs off a four-month layoff, but did well to finish third behind the then red-hot and classy pair of Criticism and Dress Rehearsal. Backseat Rhythm then came back to win the Hillsborough, which was slightly remarkable considering an extremely slow pace had to compromise her late kick.

Things went south for Backseat Rhythm after that. She subsequently disappointed, finishing fifth in both the Jenny Wiley and Sheepshead Bay, but in her defense, she did not have ideal trips or pace setups either time. And then Backseat Rhythm's most recent outing, a distant fifth in the New York Stakes, looks downright ugly. But you can draw a line through that as it was an off-the-turf event run in the mud, and the way Icon Project freaked winning that race, she made everyone else look bad.

Regarding Backseat Rhythm's layoff, I believe a good try in her seasonal debut last year is evidence that she can fire fresh. Thanks to West Ocean and Romacaca, Backseat Rhythm should get a fair pace to rally into, and if rain softens the turf course, that will be fine, too, as her two best stakes wins came on yielding turf. And lastly, Backseat Rhythm on Saturday makes her first start for trainer Rick Dutrow, which is never a bad thing.

Dania Beach Stakes

I took Call Shot to upset last week's Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream, but he was a program scratch. As a side note, with the way the Spectacular Bid was run, Call Shot could have won it. In any event, if I liked Call Shot last week, I can certainly go back to him in this easier spot, even if I have no hard evidence that he likes turf.

In truth, I had no idea that Call Shot would like dirt when I picked him last week. But he had kept good company, and his anticipated double-digit odds were big enough to make the risk worth it. In this case, there is reason to think Call Shot can successfully transition to turf because of the strong synthetic-track form he showed in his second and third starts. If it is true that turf horses can successfully switch to synthetic surfaces - and it is widely accepted that it is - then it should also hold that horses can successfully make a reverse switch.

As for Call Shot, in his second start he recorded a strong maiden win at Arlington over American Lion, who came back to win a maiden race at Keeneland with a 90 Beyer Speed Figure and the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue in his next two starts. After that, Call Shot was sharp at Keeneland against Liston, who in his debut won one of those Saturday juvenile maiden races at Saratoga that is so often the source of big talent.

Santa Ynez Stakes

She's Funomenal might well extend her unbeaten streak to three in here. But I didn't care for how she was hard pressed to win a four-horse race last time out at odds of 1-5, so I'm going with Amen Hallelujah.

Amen Hallelujah was game finishing third in a pair of Grade 1 route races in her last two starts, the Alcibiades and Hollywood Starlet. But Amen Hallelujah is now cutting back to a one-turn sprint, and that is something she figures to love considering her blowout win three starts back, good for a 94 Beyer, in what was her last attempt sprinting.