05/06/2009 11:00PM

Dakota Phone can thwart Rail Trip


NEW YORK - It's understandable when a Derby hangover lasts for a day, even two. But when it comes to the national stakes schedule, it appears a Derby hangover has lasted a week.

Saturday's stakes schedule is very light, with only three graded stakes of debatable importance to be decided. They are the Grade 3, $400,000 Lone Star Derby; the Grade 2, $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park, a race that isn't always the serviceable stepping-stone to the Belmont Stakes it's meant to be; and the Grade 2, $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Mervyn LeRoy Handicap

Rail Trip comes into this looking to extend his unbeaten streak to six, and promises to be a heavy favorite. Even though Rail Trip's last three wins came on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface, his connections strongly insist that he is a better horse on the Hollywood Cushion Track, which he will run on this Saturday. And although Rail Trip had his closest call yet last time out in the Santana Mile Handicap, there is absolutely no question that the reason why his win margin was anywhere close to being as small as the nose it was is because jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. fell asleep on him.

That said, I have a strong suspicion that Rail Trip does have some distance limitations, at least at this point in his career. And while he has managed to win his last three starts around two turns, two at this 1 1/16-mile distance, he got away with easy leads through slow fractions in all three of those victories. That's not going to happen Saturday. Aggie Engineer might be in over his head here, but he did contest fractions of 22.03 and 44.80 seconds sprinting two starts back. Ball Four's current status might be in question, but he has been class speed going long for a number of years now. Rail Trip might prove to be equally effective letting those two go early. He might be so good that it doesn't matter what those two opponents do. But is it really worth it taking a short price to find out?

For these reasons, I'm going with Dakota Phone. Granted, Dakota Phone wouldn't have gotten to within a nose of Rail Trip in the Santana Mile if Rail Trip's rider hadn't tried to be a smart guy. But Dakota Phone still deserves credit for running as well as he did considering he was coming off a two month layoff and was up against it pace-wise. He has a right to improve second time back and with a more favorable pace setup, and Dakota Phone likes Cushion Track, too.

Peter Pan Stakes

Although six of the seven entered are nominated to the Triple Crown, it seems pretty obvious that this race comes down to the big three of Hello Broadway, Charitable Man, and Imperial Council.

Hello Broadway is the main speed here, especially with blinkers on. But he struggled more than a 2-5 shot should when he won an entry-level allowance race most recently at Keeneland. And the group of 3-year-olds he was competitive with last fall and winter have since disappointed.

Charitable Man won the Futurity over the track last September. In his first start since then, Charitable Man finished seventh in the Blue Grass Stakes. He had a wide trip in that race, and might not have liked Keeneland's Polytrack. But Charitable Man also didn't do much running, and I prefer to see more life from a horse coming back from injury before backing him.

I'm going with Imperial Council. After a second in the Gotham Stakes, Imperial Council was fifth in the Wood Memorial last time out, but flipping in the paddock before that race certainly didn't help him. Imperial Council has worked well since, and having notched his maiden win at Belmont, he clearly likes the track.

Decathlon Stakes

He's So Chic was the beaten favorite in both of his starts over the winter in Florida. But rather than take that as indication that he's lost his form, I take it as saying winter in Florida just isn't He's So Chic's thing these days. And if you can forgive He's So Chic's last two, he's a strong play.

He's So Chic didn't do well in his two-race Florida campaign last year, either. But after the same sort of freshening he brings into this spot, He's So Chic came back to gallop twice at Monmouth. Sure, those were easier races than this one, but He's So Chic's fine second in the Fall Highweight Handicap last November to Fabulous Strike, one of the very best sprinters in the country, suggests He's So Chic is certainly good enough to win this.

How about a few quick picks:

Tom Ridge Stakes - Presque Isle Downs

Ring of Greatness might be up in class, but he has a big edge in early speed; wire to wire.

Lyman Handicap - Philadelphia Park

Whistle Pig was formidable in Pennsylvania-bred sprint stakes like this one last year, and after facing open company in his first two starts this year, he's primed for a big effort. But as tough as he looks in this race, I'll take a shot with Luckifee, who is improving, and takes an appealing turnback in distance.

Chester House Stakes - Arlington Park

Telling can beat favored Artic Cry. Telling got right back on track when moved back to turf last time out, finishing second, and handles off turf at Arlington, the footing he might get Saturday.