11/02/2009 1:00AM

Blame improving with distance


NEW YORK - There are only three graded stakes races on the schedule Saturday, and the first Saturday card of the Aqueduct fall meet has two of them, the Grade 3, $150,000 Bold Ruler Handicap and the Grade 3, $100,000 Turnback the Alarm Handicap. Keeneland, however, has the highest graded stakes of the day, the Grade 2, $150,000 Fayette Stakes, while Woodbine has the richest race on the continent Saturday, the $250,000 Princess Elizabeth Stakes.

Fayette Stakes

Parading should be tough to beat in this spot off close fourths in his last two starts in two Grade 1 events in Southern California, the Goodwood and Pacific Classic. Also imposing is the local record of Parading's trainer, Shug McGaughey. According to DRF's Formulator, McGaughey over the last three years on Keeneland's Polytrack has won with 25 percent of his starters and has shown a positive return on investment of $2.45 for every $2 wagered. And the ribbon on the package is that in his only previous start on Keeneland's Polytrack, Parading won laughing in the Ben Ali Stakes last spring.

Still, even though Parading looks strong here, I do have a couple of concerns about him. First, his odds Saturday will not be appealing. And then, while I can understand that the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Pacific Classic two starts back might have been a bit beyond Parading's range, I didn't like the way he folded in the final furlong of the Goodwood last time out after having command at the eighth pole while going a 1 1/8-mile distance that he has done very well at in the past.

Granted, Parading was in with better in the Goodwood than he faces in this race. In fact, he was beaten less than a length for third by Richard's Kid, a horse I believe has a realistic shot at upsetting next Saturday's Breeders' Cup Classic. But my concerns over Parading's most recent late fade combined with his short price makes it easier to go with the logical alternative, Blame.

Blame comes into this off a game second to Regal Ransom in the Super Derby. Now, the record shows that Blame gained almost three lengths on Regal Ransom in the final furlong, but that is misleading, for Regal Ransom was taken well in hand when the outcome was obvious well before the finish. Still, Blame finished willingly even though Regal Ransom got away with a slow and uncontested pace.

More importantly, Blame really blossomed in his last two starts in conjunction with finally getting the opportunity to go two turns, which should be no surprise given his route pedigree. The 105 Beyer Speed Figure that Blame earned in the Super Derby, and the 102 Beyer he got for winning the nine-furlong Curlin Stakes at Saratoga two starts back over subsequent Pennsylvania and Ohio Derby winner Gone Astray (a stablemate of Parading's) were significantly better than the Beyers that Blame previously earned in one-turn races.

River Memories Stakes

This is the secondary feature at Woodbine on Saturday, and I like Much Obliged, the morning-line favorite. But even though she's the favorite, Much Obliged could still be an acceptable price thanks to the presence of Milwaukee Appeal and Points of Grace.

Even though her turf ability is in doubt, Milwaukee Appeal still ought to take more money than the linemaker thinks. She's been third or better in her last nine outings, which include recent near-misses against males in the Queen's Plate and Prince of Wales, and a second, albeit a distant one, in the Grade 1 Alabama. And Points of Grace was half the price Much Obliged was when a decent fourth last time out in the Canadian Stakes off a close fifth in the Grade 1 Beverly D. and a stakes win.

Milwaukee Appeal is a question mark on grass, especially the expected soft turf, and Points of Grace might find more company up on the early pace than she might like.

As for Much Obliged, it looked like she might upset champion Forever Together in the Canadian before winding up being beaten a nose and a head for all the money. That was Much Obliged's best race of her career, and she should be able to at least duplicate it since she will now make her second start off a two-month layoff with likely enough pace early to set up her late run.

Bold Ruler Handicap

Past the Point's last two races do not look pretty on paper. But there were extenuating circumstances both times, enough to make me ignore those outings and take him in this spot.

New Yorkers who have seen Past the Point win the last two summers at Saratoga have long known that he is much more effective on dirt, so that's why his ninth most recently in the Phoenix on Keeneland's Polytrack can be thrown out. Two starts back, Past the Point finished a distant sixth in the Woodward on dirt at Saratoga after flashing early foot. The Woodward, however, was a race in which all the speed except for Rachel Alexandra collapsed, which is a big reason why her courageous victory in that race was so special. But three starts back on dirt at seven furlongs, the conditions Saturday, Past the Point won a Saratoga allowance race in an effort that is as good as any in this race can currently muster.