06/23/2010 11:00PM

A cleaner trip boosts Harissa


NEW YORK - The excellent timing of the Iowa Festival of Racing enables Prairie Meadows to be king of the hill when it comes to Saturday's national stakes schedule. The Grade 2, $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap, the Grade 3, $250,000 Iowa Derby, and the Grade 3, $200,000 Iowa Oaks will all be decided at Prairie Meadows Saturday night, and are three of the day's five richest events in the county. Only the Grade 1, $250,000 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park, and the $200,000 Don LeVine Memorial Handicap at Philadelphia Park can rival the worth of the big races at Prairie Meadows on Saturday.

Elsewhere, Monmouth Park, Chur chill Downs, and Hollywood Park all have Grade 3 headliners Saturday. They are the $150,000 Boiling Springs, the $100,000 Debutante, and the $100,000 Beverly Hills Handicap, respectively.

Iowa Oaks

This event might have only seven entered, but it's a salty, well-matched group, which should still make for a good betting race. For example, Quiet Temper and Seeking the Title both come into this off the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes. Quiet Temper checked going into the far turn before finishing fourth in the Acorn. She beat Acorn upsetter Champagne d'Oro when she won the Fair Grounds Oaks three starts back. Seeking the Title finished sixth in the Acorn after angling seven wide into the stretch for a clear run. She was a close, dead-heat third in the Fair Grounds Oaks three starts back in just the third start of her career. Both figure to like the stretch back out to two turns here, yet I am going to try and beat both in this spot. I don't think Quiet Temper and Seeking the Title really did that much running despite having less-than-perfect trips in the Acorn. In fact, I just don't think, at least at this point in time, that this year's Acorn was a strong race.

All Due Respect certainly merits respect here. She split Crisp and 3-year-old filly divisional leader Blind Luck four starts back when she was a narrowly beaten second in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, and her last two outings, the most recent an allowance romp by a double-digit win margin, were the two best performances of her career from the standpoint of Beyer Speed Figures. The problem I have is, all three of those efforts came on synthetic tracks in California, and all of her performances on dirt, which she races on Saturday, are just not of the same quality.

I like Harissa. I actually liked Harissa last time out in the Black-Eyed Susan because she was coming off a strong victory in the Sunland Park Oaks in what was her first start on dirt. What was so impressive about Harissa's race at Sunland is she won by a widening 3 1/2 lengths in solid final time after disputing a pace that was very fast for two turns on that track that day, a day when the Sunland Park Derby was also run. But in the Black-Eyed Susan, Harissa stumbled coming out of the gate, and was rank when taken in hand right after that. Harissa, who wound up fourth, was supposed to get the "shadow-the-leader" trip that Black-Eyed Susan winner Acting Happy wound up getting. I think Harissa gets that trip Saturday night, and capitalizes.

Cornhusker Handicap

Mythical Power and Brass Hat are the first two favorites on the morning line here, but neither is so imposing that you can't look elsewhere. Mythical Power has done his best work at Lone Star. But even at his favorite track last time out, Mythical Power lost by almost 24 lengths as the chalk without an apparent excuse, and I can't take him off a running line like that. I believe Brass Hat is best on dirt - he certainly is more accomplished on dirt than other surfaces - and he is finally moving back to that surface after nine straight starts on turf. But the fact is, Brass Hat hasn't won on dirt since September of 2007. Moreover, after eight straight starts going 11 furlongs or longer, Brass Hat, who isn't quick early to begin with, might really get outrun early here.

I know Red Lead got an ideal set-up when he won the local springboard to this most recently when Shadowbdancing got hooked in an early speed duel, but he's the play because he's in line for another good set-up this time. There is other speed to go early here with Shadowbdancing, who is a question mark going this nine-furlong distance, anyway. Red Lead, meanwhile, is in the best form of his career.

Boiling Springs Stakes

Bay to Bay's two races this year, the most recent of which was a decisive score in the American 1000 Guineas, were very good. And what's even more impressive about her is the marked Beyer improvement she has shown this year over her 2-year-old form. But while Bay to Bay will be a handful here, I simply prefer Triple Cream.

Triple Cream comes in from California, where she was competitive with what I believe to be better horses. Triple Cream finished a close fourth in graded stakes in her last two starts, the most recent of which was the Honeymoon Handicap, in which she kicked home just as strongly as everyone else did in that race, covering her last three furlongs in a fast 34.60 seconds. In addition, Triple Cream was beaten only a little more than a length in the Honeymoon by Evening Jewel, who previously won the Grade 1 Ashland, and was beaten noses in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks and Grade 1 Las Virgenes.