03/09/2009 12:00AM

Einstein likely to relish Pro-Ride


NEW YORK - Santa Anita has a lot of big racing days. So it says a lot that Saturday is the biggest day of the Santa Anita meet. That means, of course, it's Big Cap Day, with the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Handicap heading a program that also includes two other Grade 1 events, the $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks and the $300,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap, as well as the $100,000 Honest Lady Stakes.

Saturday is also the biggest day of the year so far this year at Aqueduct, where the Grade 3, $250,000 Gotham Stakes tops a card that also includes the Grade 3, $100,000 Toboggan Handicap. Meanwhile, the two other graded events on the day are the Grade 3, $150,000 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park, and the Grade 3, $100,000 Honey Fox Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Santa Anita Handicap

You don't have to look any further than the morning line to see what a wild betting race this promises to be, what with the favorite pegged at 9-2, the second choice at 5-1, and three horses right behind that at 6-1. This is great if you feel strongly about this race, which I do.

At the risk of tempting the racing gods, I know I don't like favorite Colonel John. Colonel John will be making his first start of the year after missing time due to a pulled muscle, and he has no appreciable edge on the competition, which is not a good thing when you're talking about a potential favorite in a spot where his margin of error is nonexistent. And I'm drawing an "X" through second choice Cowboy Cal, just like I did last time out before he won the Strub. But even though Cowboy Cal has now won two straight stakes over the track, they were slowly run races, and he must, in fact, run faster than he ever has to win this.

I'm also against two of the three third choices, Court Vision and Matto Mondo. Court Vision ran much better than I ever thought he could in his last three, but on turf. Maybe he's much improved, but his main-track races leave me cold. Matto Mondo impressed winning the Thunder Road over the Pro-Ride synthetic track most recently in his first start on a surface other than turf. But he figures to hook up early with Cowboy Cal, and is a real question mark at this 10-furlong distance, anyway.

Einstein, the other one listed at 6-1, is the horse I like. Einstein is in sharp form right now, having won the Clark Handicap decisively two starts back, and finishing a good third last time out from an impossible outside post in the Donn Handicap to Dubai World Cup-bound Albertus Maximus. Moreover, Einstein figures to sit a sweet trip here stalking a pace dispute between Matto Mondo and Cowboy Cal.

Granted, this will be Einstein's first start on a synthetic surface. I'm hoping uncertainty over that point will help boost Einstein's odds, because I think it's a non-issue. As well as Einstein ran on dirt in his last two starts, I believe he's even better on turf, a surface on which he is a multiple Grade 1 winner. Beyond Einstein's established versatility, we all know that many horses who handle turf like Einstein often lose nothing in the way of effectiveness when first switched to synthetic tracks.

Gotham Stakes

While I really like Einstein to make his first start on a synthetic track in the Big Cap a winning one, I'm hoping for a successful reverse surface switch in this event. I'm going with I Want Revenge, who will be making his first career start on dirt after racing on nothing but synthetic tracks at his base in Southern California.

There is some fairly imposing form in this race. Mr. Fantasy romped in both of his starts. Haynesfield galloped in his last four, three of them stakes. Imperial Council looked good winning his last two, Masala was second in a quickly run race at Gulfstream most recently, and Russell Road has only won his last six. But I Want Revenge has run well lately in much tougher races than his opponents have run in. He was best when nosed by Pioneerof the Nile in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity two starts back, and probably would have won by daylight had he not mysteriously lost focus down the backstretch. I Want Revenge did not have an excuse when third most recently in the Robert Lewis Stakes, but he still ran well in the race that elevated Pioneerof the Nile to the status of a top-level Kentucky Derby candidate. And as for I Want Revenge's prospects on dirt, it helps that his pedigree is decidedly dirt-oriented.

Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap

Even if she is a mare against males, Ventura will take a lot of beating here. She won a Breeders' Cup race and a Grade 1 event in her last two starts, and now returns to turf, on which she won a Grade 1 race last year, beating champion Forever Together. But Ventura will also be an unappealing price, and Global Hunter is an intriguing sort on which to take a flyer.

Global Hunter split two Big Cap entrants in Matto Mondo and Monba when second in his recent return from a four- month layoff. He has a right to improve second start back, and also switching from synthetic to turf. The last time he made such a surface switch, Global Hunter earned by far his best career Beyer Figure (105), finishing a sharp third in the Del Mar Mile Handicap.