01/03/2013 6:07PM

Byron King: Pletcher tips his hand in Jerome

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Barbara D. Livingston
Notacatbutallama has won two stakes on the turf, but has never won a race on the main track.

Imagine you’re the trainer of a talented newly turned 3-year-old colt. And not just any colt – one that won two consecutive stakes races on turf in New York before getting outrun in the slop when second in the statebred Damon Runyon stakes in the horse’s dirt bow Dec. 9.

Where would you go next with him, knowing the turf season in New York is over? South, one would guess, likely to Gulfstream Park, which has a series of stakes on the grass for 3-year-olds for the winter.

Yet the horse just described isn’t at Gulfstream Park, nor is he at Fair Grounds, another Southern track with a turf course. This horse – Notacatbutallama – is still in New York, running on the inner track at Aqueduct Saturday in the Grade 2, $200,000 Jerome. And this surprising placement is precisely the reason to bet him.

Notacatbutallama isn’t trained by some low-percentage trainer, or one without a division down South. He’s trained by Todd Pletcher, whose bench of promising 3-year-olds might tally close to the 100-plus cars comedian and automobile collector Jay Leno owns.

The point is, Pletcher could have chosen one of any number of horses to run in Jerome. Yet he chose Notacatbutallama, leading this handicapper to believe that there is more to this horse than what we saw in the Damon Runyon.

Perhaps the slop wasn’t his thing. Perhaps a wide trip compromised the horse that day.
I don’t honestly care – Pletcher is giving him another chance, and at 10-1 on the morning line, bettors should, too.

Reason being, he can win if he runs to his full potential on dirt. He can stay the mile and 70 yards of the Jerome, which is an unknown with two of the race favorites, Vyjack and Mudflats, who have not raced two turns.
Toss in jockey Ramon Dominguez, as well as a bullet work on dirt at Belmont Dec. 23, and Notacatbutallama looms an attractive overlay.

Marshua’s River: Leading Astray legit

A turf race headlines the card Saturday at Gulfstream – the Grade 3 Marshua’s River Stakes, where Leading Astray is the selection.

A hard-knocking Illinois-bred, she has compiled a record of five wins, two seconds, and a third in eight starts. And though she did pad her record somewhat by winning two races in statebred contests this summer at Arlington Park, she has proven legitimate with subsequent top efforts in open stakes races.

She won a division of the Hatoof in August and the Grade 3 Pucker Up in September before heading to Kentucky and performing well in graded stakes there. Third at Keeneland in a division of the Grade 3 Valley View, she then followed that race with a runner-up finish to Centre Court in the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere.

Centre Court is a quality filly – one of the best 3-year-old fillies on the turf of last year – and the Mrs. Revere had other good ones, too.

One can only hope that despite Leading Astray’s record and peak form, she may be underestimated to some extent, not having faced older fillies and mares in stakes company – something she does for the first time Saturday.

The key difference is that she isn’t facing the best older female turfers, rather what one would expect to find in a $100,000 Grade 3 race in the dead of winter.

Defending champion and 6-year-old Heavenly Landing, for example, went just 2 for 8 last year, with her only other victory besides the 2012 Marshua’s River coming in an allowance race in October.

Others, such as 4-year-old Channel Lady, are also facing older in a stakes for the first time. Although Channel Lady is fast, she isn’t as battle tested as Leading Astray.

Look for Leading Astray to run these down with her powerful late rally.

Prevue: Mile Range gets setup

An abundance of speed in Saturday’s Turfway Prevue makes Mile Range an appealing wager there.

A winner in his debut going a mile at Turfway in September, he was subsequently a close fifth at Keeneland in a turf allowance after setting the early fractions. Now cutting back in distance, he figures to get a favorable off-the-pace setup in the 6  1/2-furlong Turfway Prevue.

Helping his cause is that two of top contenders in the race, Lew and Mike and Bye Bye Bernie, seem to be need-the-lead types that could go too fast early.

Such a scenario would play right to Mile Range’s strength.