07/11/2007 11:00PM

Desert Code can win another


NEW YORK - This is the biggest weekend of the year at Delaware Park, where on Saturday the $500,000 Delaware Oaks heads a card that also includes the $300,000 Robert G. Dick Memorial Stakes, and on Sunday, the $1 million Delaware Handicap tops a program that also includes the $300,000 Barbaro Stakes and the $200,000 Caesar Rodney. Elsewhere on Saturday, the $350,000 Swaps Stakes is the main event at Hollywood Park, while the feature at Belmont Park is the $100,000 Poker Handicap.


It seems as though there is a tendency among horseplayers after the outcome of a race to look for reasons for why the winner won't win the next time he or she races. Of course, there are often valid reasons why a bettor should look to tip over a last-out winner, but this isn't one of them. Desert Code led wire to wire in last month's Affirmed Handicap, and I look for him to do the same in this spot.

While it is true that Desert Code, who has high sprint speed, got away with a soft pace in the Affirmed, his first start at two turns on a surface other than turf, he is set for a similar trip Saturday. Albertus Maximus and Awesome Gambler couldn't keep up early with Desert Code when they finished second and a dead-heat fourth in the Affirmed despite the slow pace, and it's doubtful either could keep up with Desert Code even if they were sent. Tiago, the Santa Anita Derby winner who will be making his first start since his third in the Belmont Stakes, has no early speed. Augment doesn't have any serious early lick, either. And while Souvenir Slew did make the fractions in two of his last three starts, they were slow-paced grass races, meaning he figures to be outquicked switching off the turf. There is no reason to get fancy here. This is pace handicapping 101. The only problem is that Desert Code won't be the 6-1 he was in the Affirmed. But if he is half that price, it would be value.

Delaware Oaks

Being a track morning-line maker is a thankless task. I can vouch for this, having once been one. You're noticed only when you get something wrong. So I take no pleasure in saying I think the morning line in this race is wrong. High Heels is the favorite at 5-2, but I can see Cotton Blossom, Tough Tiz's Sis, and maybe even Bear Now being bet more than High Heels. Cotton Blossom just upset the immensely talented Dream Rush in the Grade 1 Acorn, Tough Tiz's Sis just dominated the Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks, and Bear Now comes off two straight fast and lengthy stakes wins at Woodbine.

I'm making a big deal about this because I like High Heels. Her form is a bit darkened due to a failed attempt on turf last time out, but her prior two efforts were good. Two starts back, on a track not kind to closers, she came from 10th to finish third in the Kentucky Oaks behind Rags to Riches, who came back to win the Belmont Stakes, and Octave, who came back to win the Mother Goose. Before that High Heels crushed Cotton Blossom in the Fantasy Stakes when Cotton Blossom was the 1-2 favorite. A duplicate of either of those races should be good enough.

Poker Handicap

Host is a Grade 1 stakes winner at this one-mile distance, and judging from his victory last time out in the Elkwood Stakes, he's still going strong at age 7. But he won't offer any betting value, and Gimmie Credit is a very appealing alternative.

Gimmie Credit showed potential last summer at 3 when he ripped off five straight wins, and his upset victory most recently in the Notoriety Stakes suggests he might be even better now. Gimmie Credit finished powerfully in that seven-furlong race to win going away and earn a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 103. The added distance in this race works in his favor, and he still can move forward in his third start off a layoff.