07/26/2007 12:00AM

Brass Hat ready to step forward


NEW YORK - The first Saturday card of the Saratoga meet is a huge one, with a trio of Grade 1 events - the $750,000 Whitney Handicap, the $500,000 Diana Stakes, and the $250,000 Go for Wand Handicap - as well as the Grade 2, $250,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap. There also is the Grade 2, $150,000 San Clemente Handicap at Del Mar.

Whitney Handicap

If this race holds together - with rain in the forecast, scratches could occur - it will be an outstanding betting race. With a big and incredibly well-matched field, betting value won't be hard to find. And for me, the value play here is Brass Hat, who I only hope goes off somewhere close to the 20-1 he is on the morning line.

Brass Hat recently returned from an injury-related 13-month absence with a win at Churchill Downs that I believe was more impressive visually than it might look on paper. That start was only 20 days ago, and some might argue that a hard race off such a long layoff could set Brass Hat up for regression. I don't think that's the case in this instance. Brass Hat has worked sharply since that outing, and given the patience trainer Buff Bradley has demonstrated throughout Brass Hat's career, I don't think this gelding would be in this race if he wasn't in prime shape. In fact, I think Brass Hat is going to take a big step forward, closer to the excellent form he demonstrated early last year.

With the way he has put it all together since moving into trainer Gary Contessa's barn, Papi Chullo is very dangerous. The only problem I have with him is he will be about a quarter of the price Brass Hat will be.

San Clemente Handicap

Between stretch-out sprinters with speed like La Tee and Private Dreams, and others who like to set up shop early either on or very close to the pace - like Diva's Seastar, Spenditallbaby, Super Freaky, and Passified - the pace in this race figures to be strong and contested. So, I want a horse who can close, and that horse is Tremendous One.

Tremendous One showed a good closing kick when she won her career debut on turf last summer at Saratoga, and was impressive enough to have been favored next time out in the Natalma Stakes. Tremendous One was soundly beaten in the Natalma, as well as in the subsequent Miss Grillo Stakes, but both of those races were run on off turf she might not have handled. Tremendous One rallied strongly when she won her comeback on Hollywood's Cushion track, and she ran respectably last time out when third behind older opponents in a race that lacked a real pace. Not only will Tremendous One get the kind of pace she wants Saturday while suitably switching back to turf, she'll get firm footing, is moving back in with straight 3-year-olds, and is primed for a peak performance third start off a layoff.

Diana Stakes

The late turn of foot Makderah showed winning her last two was most impressive. And with Countess Scala in this race primarily to keep My Typhoon busy up front early, a closing kick promises to be an important asset. But Danzon has a good late kick of her own, and I'm going with her as she figures to be a better price.

Danzon was third last time out as the odds-on favorite in the Mint Julep Handicap, but was compromised by a poor start and slow fractions. Two starts back, against males in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, she finished strongly and was beaten only a length by Sky Conqueror, who won the Northern Dancer Stakes at Woodbine last week. Moreover, Danzon finished ahead of Better Talk Now, who won the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap.