02/21/2008 1:00AM

Einstein playable vs. Shamdinan


NEW YORK - The stakes focus Saturday will be on turf racing, as the four richest races in the nation are scheduled to be run on grass. They are: the $350,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Stakes, the $150,000 San Luis Obispo Handicap at Santa Anita, the $100,000 Bayou Handicap at Fair Grounds, and the $100,000 Tampa Bay Stakes.

Gulfstream Park Turf Stakes

Shamdinan has assumed the role of marquee horse in this race, presumably off his second to champion English Channel in the Breeders' Cup Turf. But while finishing second in a race like the BC Turf is nothing to sneeze at, I'm still unsure just how good Shamdinan really is. He was beaten a long way (seven lengths) by English Channel, and while he did finish in front of some highly accomplished rivals, I don't think any of them really handled the deep footing that day. Even Shamdinan's victory in last summer's Gradeo1 Secretariat in his first U.S. start can be scrutinized. The opposition was not strong, and he rode the crest of a closer's bias. All this would be less of a concern if Shamdinan were a price Saturday, but he won't be.

So, I'm going with Einstein. He should have won this race last year when he was a close third behind Jambalaya and the high-class mare Honey Ryder after being caught three wide around the first turn, four wide around the second turn, and five wide around the third and final turn. He was tons the best when he won the subsequent Mervin Muniz Jr. Memorial, and he looked good winning over the course last month off a long absence and at a distance shorter than he prefers. Einstein's experiment on fast dirt in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap last time out wasn't a disaster - he wasn't badly beaten in sixth - but he now moves back to his favorite surface, and stretches out to a distance he can handle.

San Luis Obispo Handicap

On the Acorn will be a handful if he shows the form he did when he finished a troubled third in this race last year and won the subsequent San Juan Capistrano and Jim Murray Memorial. But On the Acorn will be making his first start in more than nine months. And even though his trainer, Mike Mitchell, has good numbers with horses off such layoffs, I'm inclined to go against horses returning from long absences in 1o1/2-mile races whenever the trainer isn't Michael Dickinson, and whenever the odds figure to be on the short side.

Sudan, who will be making his U.S. debut, hasn't raced in a while, either. But I expect him to be a better price than On the Acorn, and he is my play. Sudan had very impressive class lines in Europe in 2006. On three occasions, he was beaten less than three lengths by Rail Link, who won the Arc de Triomphe that season, and was once just a head behind Red Rocks, who won that's year's Breeders' Cup Turf. And while his 2007 campaign was more spotty, Sudan did win the Group 1 Gran Premio di Milano.

Valdale Stakes

If Valentine Fever runs back to her romp in last month's Cincinnati Trophy Stakes, the rest of this field is probably running for second money. The one area of doubt about her, however, is that this will be Valentine Fever's first career start around two turns.

Through the Clouds is an interesting one to take a flyer on. Her last race was not pretty, but that was her first start in two months, and for a new barn that not only is having a strong meet, but also has excellent numbers with horses making their second starts off similar layoffs.