08/19/2004 12:00AM

Curse of Dubai might reappear


NEW YORK - The stakes spree at Saratoga continues Saturday with a Grade 1 doubleheader, comprising the $750,000 Alabama for 3-year-old fillies and the $250,000 Hopeful for 2-year-olds.

The Alabama is the last leg of the New York Racing Association's triple tiara for fillies. There will be no sweep this year, as Stellar Jayne and Ashado traded victories in the first two races in the series, the Mother Goose and the Coaching Club American Oaks. But Ashado, who also won the Kentucky Oaks earlier in the season, can all but clinch the 3-year-old filly championship with a victory Saturday.

As for the Hopeful, it is being run earlier in the Saratoga meet than usual due to the restructuring of the 2-year-old stakes program. The changes eliminated the Saratoga Special, as well as the Adirondack for 2-year-old fillies.

Meanwhile, this is the biggest weekend of the Del Mar meet with that track's signature event, the $1 million Pacific Classic, to be run on Sunday. Thanks to the magic of early entries, we already know that seven opponents were entered against Breeders' Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup winner Pleasantly Perfect.

On Saturday, the Grade 1, $300,000 Del Mar Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on the turf tops a card that also includes the $150,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap for female sprinters.

Here are my three Warrior races, in order of preference:

Pacific Classic

Pleasantly Perfect's discouraging loss in the San Diego Handicap gives weight to the concern that he may not be the horse he was before his trip to Dubai in March and his victory in the World Cup. History tells us many other U.S.-based horses who ran in the Dubai Cup were never the same again, if they even raced again, including fellow Dick Mandella-trained runners Soul of the Matter, Siphon, Sandpit, Malek, and Puerto Madero. Certainly, Pleasantly Perfect blowing a clear stretch lead as he did in the San Diego isn't the Pleasantly Perfect we knew. Sure, Pleasantly Perfect can win Sunday; this Pacific Classic didn't come up especially tough. But if he does, he'll pay only around $4. So what. He's a favorite to take a swing against.

I like an exacta box of Perfect Drift and Total Impact. Perfect Drift ran a strong race when narrowly beaten in the Whitney Handicap two weeks ago, even if he was outgamed by the courageous Roses in May, and he is back in the form that enabled him to beat Horse of the Year Mineshaft last year. As for Total Impact, he beat a moderate field in the Hollywood Gold Cup last time out, but ran comparatively quick doing it, and should be a factor from the outset in a field lacking much early speed.

Del Mar Oaks

I usually never feature speed on the turf. But, you can't be too dogmatic in handicapping. You have to be flexible at times, and for me, this is such a time, as I'm going with Western Hemisphere to go wire to wire here. No other member of this field has early speed, and Western Hemisphere should be able to back the pace down like she did when she was beaten just a nose in the Honeymoon three starts back.


Afleet Alex may well be a special colt. He was very impressive walloping an interesting field in the Sanford the second day of the Saratoga meet. But, there was one colt who finished behind him in the Sanford who ran an intriguing race. That was Consolidator, and given that he and Afleet Alex were both 3-1 in the Sanford, and Consolidator will be a much bigger price this time, I'll take Consolidator in an upset.

The reason why Consolidator caught the eye in the Sanford is that he dropped back in the middle stages after being close early, and then was going well at the finish to be third. In other words, he ran in spots, and when horses like Consolidator get blinkers on, which is the case Saturday, it usually results in a much stronger performance.