12/04/2009 12:00AM

Delta Storm viable alternative to Noble Court


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The three unrestricted stakes races scheduled for Sunday will be run at a variety of distances ranging from six furlongs to 1 3/4 miles, and they are all worth a look.

The six-furlong race is the Grade 3 Vernon O. Underwood at Hollywood Park. Noble Court finished third as the favorite in this race last year, and fits well on class as he returns for another try. He won the Grade 3 Ack Ack going 7 1/2 furlongs, and finished a contending third in the seven-furlong, Grade 1 Triple Bend at Hollywood. He followed with a second-place finish at Del Mar in the seven-furlong, Grade 1 Pat O'Brien, and a seventh-place finish going 6 1/2 furlongs last time in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.

Noble Court, however, is usually a deep closer, even more so in his last four races since he returned from a layoff on June 6. He was last at the first call in two races, next-to-last at that point in another, and 11th of 14 early last time. The average distance of those races was seven furlongs, so cutting back to this six-furlong trip is a significant concern, especially when you note that he was still in the rear half of the pack in all of those races a furlong before the finish. Factor in the advantage held by horses with early and tactical speed in recent races on Cushion Track at Hollywood and Noble Court will have to be much the best to win.

Kinsale King is capable of the upset. He led throughout in a career-best performance when he defeated first-level $40,000 optional claimers with a 101 Beyer when he returned from a break of nearly nine months. An overlaid price would make him worth a bet, but the concerns are that he only figures to contend based on that last effort, and he won't have an easy time with pace pressure likely to come from Machismo.

I will give the call to Delta Storm. He finished fourth last time in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, three positions and 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Noble Court, and won't mind returning to a synthetic surface. He has more speed than he showed in his last two races, and would benefit if he is asked to make use of it Sunday while tracking Kinsale King and Machismo.

A field of six was entered to run 1 1/8 miles in the $200,000 Zia Park Distance Championship Handicap. Song of Navarone is the class of the field, and my selection.

Among his best performances this year, Song of Navarone finished third, beaten by a half-length, in the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap. He was only a length behind the winner while fourth in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup. He finished a solid third against Grade 2 rivals in the San Diego Handicap. And he ran respectably while finishing sixth, only 3 3/4 lengths behind the winner, in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic. Based on that form he was made the 3-5 favorite in an ungraded stakes at Zia last time, but settled for second behind Orientate Express, a horse he will battle again. Song of Navarone has a good local record with 3 wins and 1 second-place finish from 5 starts, and will be formidable if he delivers a more typical performance.

The 1 3/4-mile, $150,000 Valedictory will be run at Woodbine. The 9-year-old Cloudy's Knight is my selection. He won the 1 1/2-mile, Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Turf at Kentucky Downs, then won again at that class level and distance on the grass in the Sycamore at Keeneland. He was unlucky to lose by a nose at this distance last time in the Breeders' Cup Marathon. A comparable effort would make him hard to deny in this race.

Pool Play, who won the Grade 3 Durham Cup, and finished third in the Grade 2 Autumn at Woodbine, is a logical candidate to complete the exacta.