05/22/2009 11:00PM

Criticism can either lead or hang back


ELMONT, N.Y. - The versatile and consistent Criticism returns to New York on Saturday in hopes of continuing her ascent through the filly and mare turf division when she meets seven rivals in the Grade 2, $150,000 Sheepshead Bay Stakes at Belmont Park.


Since beginning her North American career in the fall of 2008, Criticism has three wins, a second, and a third from five starts. Last year, she won the Grade 3 Long Island at Aqueduct from off the pace. This year, she posted victories in The Very One at Gulfstream and the La Prevoyante at Calder while setting the pace.

Thus, when trainer Tom Albertrani says "she doesn't have to be on the lead," he actually has the evidence to support his theory.

"She inherited the lead in her last couple of races because there was absolutely no speed," Albertrani said.

Entering the Sheepshead Bay, Albertrani is suspicious that Colina Verde could be used as a pace factor by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who also has the Grade 1 winner Backseat Rhythm entered in this race.

"Whatever happens, she doesn't have to be on the lead," Albertrani said. "If they go slow, she's there; if not, she'll go her own pace. She's been training well, she seems like she's on top of her game."

Criticism will break from post 3 under Javier Castellano.

Backseat Rhythm is 3 for 3 at Belmont Park, including a victory in the Grade 1 Garden City last September. This year she finished third to Criticism in The Very One before winning the Grade 3 Hillsborough at Tampa in the last jump. Owner Paul Pompa Jr. transferred her to McLaughlin after that race. In her first start for McLaughlin, Backseat Rhythm finished fifth in the paceless Jenny Wiley at Keeneland.

"The pace scenario is not in our favor," McLaughlin said, looking at this field. "Hopefully, he can get her covered up. If we're laying second or third, just cover her up and then wheel out and let her see daylight and run."

Mushka broke through with a new career-best figure winning a third-level allowance on Polytrack last out for trainer Bill Mott. She was defeated only 2 1/2 lengths by Backseat Rhythm despite a troubled trip in the Hillsborough.

"She never had a chance to run," Mott said. "Distance never seems to be an issue for her. Her strength is in her pedigree."

Venetian Causeway, who did not ship to Arlington as expected, completes the field along with Shadiyna, Russian Rosie, and Caprice.

:: Litfin: (DRF Plus)