09/30/2009 11:00PM

DRF Weekend: Sorting out real deals and great pretenders


ARCADIA, Calif. - The major-league gap between the end of Del Mar and the start of the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita allows handicappers a leisurely opportunity to reflect on summer while contemplating the autumn calendar straight ahead.

Graded stakes in Southern California took a break from Sept. 9, when Gotta Have Her won the closing-day Grade 2 Palomar, until Oak Tree opened Sept. 30 with the Grade 3 Morvich. Yet even during the hiatus, the five-eighths-mile Fairplex Park racetrack provided evidence regarding the validity and/or invalidity of Del Mar form.

Were the stakes and big maiden races legitimate? Or were the winners mere flashes in the pan? The question is central to the Grade 1 Oak Leaf for 2-year-old fillies on Sunday. Del Mar Debutante winner Mi Sueno is injured and leaves the Oak Leaf without a strong favorite, although two other fillies from the Debutante will try to fill the void - runner-up Blind Luck and fourth-place finisher Kaloula.

The question is, was the Debutante a good race? Visually, it was not. From a speed-figure perspective, it was not. And the subsequent Fairplex performance of a Debutante also-ran further suggests the Debutante was a weak race not expected to produce the Oak Leaf winner.

Repo finished fifth by two lengths in the Del Mar Debutante, which seemingly would make her tough to beat in the restricted Barretts Debutante on Sept. 19 at Fairplex. Repo managed only a second-place finish, defeated by a maiden second-time starter. Based on the Fairplex effort by Repo, one can reasonably conclude the Debutante was soft.

Oak Leaf contender Pure Class is light on experience. Her resume includes a second-start maiden win Sept. 7. Was the maiden race a good race? One piece of evidence is in already. The filly Seriously, whom Pure Class crushed by more than 12 lengths, returned with a special-weight victory on Sept. 26 at Fairplex.

Softly Singing, an impressive maiden winner Aug. 30 at Del Mar, also jumps into the Oak Leaf. She won a sprint by more than four, but who did she beat? As of Wednesday, none of the five fillies she defeated has returned to run. Form-class analysis of Softy Singing is not possible.

Same thing with debut winner Always a Princess, whose sprint victory Sept. 5 was exceptional in that she overcame a squeezed-at-the-start trip to win going away. But once again, she beat no one of consequence. Only one filly that finished behind Always a Princess has returned to run. Lana's Lovely, who finished eighth, returned with an improved third-place finish Sept. 26 at the Fair. It is a shred of positive evidence regarding Always a Princess.

As for colts, Sidney's Candy earned the highest Beyer by any 2-year-old at Del Mar when he ripped open a maiden race Aug. 22 with a 99 Beyer. Sidney's Candy will miss the Norfolk, and when he does return, handicappers can accept his victory at face value. That is because fourth-place finisher Indian Firewater returned Sept. 7 to win by four. On the other hand, fifth-place finisher Magic Max returned Sept. 20 to lose the Barretts Juvenile as the favorite.

Form analysis is always beneficial in 2-year-old races, and perhaps even more so on synthetic surfaces that do not lend themselves to dominant, high-figure victories.

The promising California-bred John Scott seeks his third consecutive victory Sunday in the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes. His past performances provide an opportunity to reflect on his Aug. 2 debut, a race that earned a dismal 58 Beyer. But the slow time (1:04.97) did not accurately reflect the strength of the field. It turns out John Scott beat a good bunch.

Four horses he beat returned to win their next start - second-place Runaway Bandido, third-place Bench the Judge, sixth-place Sammy's a Runnin, and 10th-place L'il Charlie Rose. Three had won by the time John Scott ran again Sept. 7. In hindsight, $8 was a juicy return on I'm Smokin winner John Scott, exiting the most productive maiden race of summer.

The low 58 Beyer earned by John Scott in his debut was less relevant than the fact he defeated several subsequent winners.

Sometimes speed figures are not available and form analysis is the only way to go. The European colt Lucky Rave is tentatively scheduled for his U.S. debut on Sunday in the Norfolk. In his two most recent starts on synthetic surfaces in England, he won a maiden race and a minor handicap.

Who did he beat? It turns out, not much. The runner-up Edgewater returned to finish fourth; the third-place finish is an 0-for-4 maiden. The fifth-place finisher behind Lucky Rave did return to win, but the other seven behind him returned to lose. Based strictly on form, Lucky Rave is hard to like in the Norfolk.

Beyond 2-year-old main-track racing, form in the turf division in California remains on an upward tick. Magical Fantasy, the likely favorite Oct. 10 in the Yellow Ribbon, did not get as much respect as she perhaps deserved. It was easy to reason why, though she won three straight. Magical Fantasy scored her first win of the season over Black Mamba, a Grade 2-caliber mare who has always been just a notch below.

Magical Fantasy then beat Visit, whose reputation has always been greater than her achievement. Finally in the Grade 1 John C. Mabee on Aug. 16 at Del Mar, Magical Fantasy defeated Gotta Have Her, and for the first time this year, Magical Fantasy's form was validated.

Gotta Have Her returned Sept. 9 to win the Grade 2 Palomar Handicap, while last-place Mabee finisher Briecat returned Sept. 7 to win a minor stakes. Magical Fantasy might be better than perceived. It is a good sign when the horses that you beat return to win.