01/12/2009 12:00AM

Catch a rising star in Mambo Meister

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NEW YORK - There's a very interesting stakes schedule on tap Saturday with big fields in the main events at the two premier winter tracks, Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park, and a card at Fair Grounds that includes six stakes races.

At Santa Anita, the Grade 2, $150,000 San Pasqual Handicap, a stop on the way to the Santa Anita Handicap, is the feature, while the $100,000 Fort Lauderdale Stakes on the turf is the headliner at Gulfstream. At Fair Grounds, the Grade 3, $100,000 Lecomte Stakes, which starts the real road to the Louisiana Derby, is accorded feature status.

Now if we can only get the thunderstorms out of the New Orleans weather forecast.

Ft. Lauderdale Stakes

With earnings of more than $1.7 million, Silver Tree is unquestionably the most accomplished horse in this race. But it looks like Father Time might have finally caught up with Silver Tree, who just turned 9. His last two performances, losses without apparent excuse, were a decided cut below his usual standards. Silver Tree might win this race on memory, but if he wins, I lose.

Buddy's Humor is also a play-against for me. Although Buddy's Humor ran well winning a small stakes at Aqueduct last time out, he is marooned in post 12 while facing a fairly short run to the first turn. For a horse who likes to operate on or close to the early lead, Buddy's Humor will have to be used more early than I would like to avoid being carried out to the parking lot on the first turn.

Because I expect Buddy's Humor to be sent from the gate, I anticipate a strong early pace, which will set this race up to be won by a closer. Buffalo Man is certainly a logical candidate in that regard. He's dropping in class after running in four straight graded stakes, one of which he got up to win; he was narrowly beaten for second last time out in the Knickerbocker Handicap by Strike a Deal, who came back to romp in the Red Smith Handicap earning a 103 Beyer Figure; and he's perfectly drawn on the rail. But while I fear Buffalo Man, I prefer Mambo Meister.

Mambo Meister got his first win on turf last time out in a comparatively easy spot, but he did it quite impressively. He came from well off the pace to crush his field in runaway fashion and earned a career-best Beyer of 101, the best last-out Beyer in this field. And, his performance was validated when the second and third finishers both came back to win allowance races in their next start. Mambo Meister showed flashes of real ability earlier in his career, and he looks like a horse who, unlike many others in this race, hasn't really established his ceiling yet.

Wishing Well Stakes

This is the headliner at Turfway Park, and beyond attracting a big field, it's the kind of race where even those who attract most of the betting public's attention will still offer acceptable betting value. At least that's what I'm hoping for, because I like Afleet Angel, who is a strong play even if she should be one of the betting favorites.

Afleet Angel, like Silver Tree, just turned 9, and I generally don't like to support 9-year-olds unless they are named John Henry. But unlike Silver Tree, Afleet Angel, despite her advanced age, might actually be in the best form of her career. Granted, she was beaten in two of her last three starts, but on surfaces that might not be her favorites anymore. One loss was on turf, and her third most recently in a stakes at Mountaineer was on dirt, but was still an effort that at least in terms of Beyer Figures suggests she has maintained her form.

Where Afleet Angel has really shined of late is on synthetic tracks. She has won her last three starts, and four of her last five, on synthetic surfaces. Afleet Angel won the Holiday Inaugural Stakes at the distance over the track two starts back with the kind of wide run I want my horses to be able to produce at Turfway, and she did so decisively despite checking going into the far turn and appearing hopelessly beaten turning for home.

San Pasqual Handicap

I have nothing but respect for Well Armed. He was already a useful horse before he learned to effectively rate, and when he did learn to rate, he became much more dangerous, as evidenced by his win last fall in the Grade 1 Goodwood. But I don't want to take low odds on a horse like Well Armed when what he is doing Saturday is mainly prepping for either the Big Cap, or the Dubai World Cup, whichever one his connections eventually target.

Normally, I would draw a line through a horse like Slew's Tizzy, who had the misfortune of drawing post 12 in a route like this, but I actually like Slew's Tizzy in this spot. He clearly demonstrated he can relax off the early lead when a decisive winner of the Native Diver Handicap last time out, his second win from three starts off a seven-month layoff, just as he did when a good second before his absence to Giant Gizmo, who came right back to win the Alysheba Stakes and Lone Star Park Handicap. Slew's Tizzy's ability to relax could serve him well here. He will be able to follow Ball Four as that one clears for the lead and moves over. If things work out perfectly, Slew's Tizzy will be in the two path stalking Ball Four around the first turn, and he can certainly win from there.