06/11/2008 11:00PM

Derby also-ran can control pace


NEW YORK - It's like a mini-Breeders' Cup Saturday at Churchill Downs, with the Grade 1, $1 million Stephen Foster Handicap, which marks the U.S. return of Horse of the Year Curlin, heading a card that includes five other graded stakes events.

Elsewhere, the most notable event on the national stakes schedule is the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park, which attracted champion Ginger Punch.

Northern Dancer Stakes

This race may have lured a field of only seven, but that includes three colts who made their last starts in the Kentucky Derby - Recapturetheglory, Pyro, and Visionaire. Despite finishing eighth in the Derby, Pyro figures to be the favorite. He was sent off third choice of 20 in the Derby, and he still has something of a reputation off his visually impressive victories earlier this year in the Louisiana Derby and Risen Star Stakes. But I'm against Pyro Saturday. In four starts this year, he has yet to approach the best Beyer Figures he earned last year at 2. This suggests that Pyro may not have progressed from 2 to 3, and in his two wins this year, he might have been made to look better than he actually is by soft competition.

Recapturetheglory looks like a strong play. Yes, Recapturetheglory was a surprise when he upset the Illinois Derby two starts back. But he ran well enough in that decisive score to have earned a Beyer Figure of 102, which is by far the best Beyer anyone in this field has received this year. Recapturetheglory proved his Illinois Derby was no fluke when he followed with a respectable fifth in the Kentucky Derby. He was part of the pace from the start, he actually poked his head in front nearing the stretch, and tired only in the final furlong. Now, Recapturetheglory projects to be in complete control of the early pace while cutting back to a 1 1/16-mile distance that should be right in his wheelhouse.

Susan's Girl Stakes

This co-feature at Delaware Park drew a competitive field, and the favorites should be Sherine, winner of the Grade 2 Comely two starts back; Never Retreat, who stretches out after winning her first two starts; and African Violet, who has won all three of her starts on dirt. But after having given Awesome Chic a big chance to upset the Kentucky Oaks, which did not come to pass, I can certainly take her back in this easier spot, especially when she should be a square price.

Awesome Chic didn't do much running in the Kentucky Oaks, finishing next to last of 10. But there were circumstances, beyond the simple fact that she was in with much better, that could have been contributing factors. For one, she caught a sloppy track, and despite a pedigree that would suggest otherwise, she still might not have liked it. Awesome Chic was also faced with trying to close into slow fractions. She did rally strongly when she won the Florida Oaks two starts back in an eye-opening effort. That was her first start around two turns, and this distance-bred daughter of Awesome Again and an A.P. Indy mare loved it. Moreover, Awesome Chic earned a 92 Beyer that day, which is tops in this field.

Regret Stakes

Pure Clan will be the favorite off her third in the Kentucky Oaks and the fact that she won on turf in her first two starts. But I can't take a short price on Pure Clan because the Beyers she earned in those two grass wins were by far the lowest she has ever gotten. Zee Zee will be the second choice off her win in the Edgewood on Kentucky Oaks Day, but that front-running score was aided by a distinct speed bias.

This could be a good spot for an upset, and I'm going with Magical Theater. Magical Theater showed the kind of quick turn of foot good grass horses have when she won her turf debut last time out over a next-out winner. Since that was only her third start, she has lots of room for improvement.