10/12/2009 11:00PM

Expect big improvement from Tiago


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - With half of the starters in Saturday's Grade 1 Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting exiting the Pacific Classic, that race obviously will provide clues as to the winner of the Goodwood. But so, too, will another race - though is was run 11 months ago.

That race would be last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, run over the Pro-Ride synthetic surface at Santa Anita.

What most people remember about the race is that Curlin weakened to fourth after making a menacing move to challenge for the lead, and that Europeans Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator swept past in the lane to finish one-two.

That much I remembered before examining the Goodwood past performances. What I had forgotten, however, was that Tiago rallied for third, edging Curlin, and outperforming every American horse in the field.

His top level was simply overshadowed by the defeat of a champion in Curlin, and the story of the Europeans running away with the race.

Now, perhaps that race is ancient history, and Tiago, now a 5-year-old with just two starts in 2009, isn't ready to return to that form.

But when I look at his form, I see a horse that looks prepped for this race with the hope of a potential start in next month's Breeders' Cup Classic.

Tiago is a dirt/synthetic runner - it's that simple. So when trainer John Shirreffs returned him from a layoff in the Harry Brubaker Stakes on turf in late August, the race was merely a stepping-stone for the fall after the horse had been laid up from an intestinal illness.

Tiago ran like a horse badly in need of a race, finishing last of six.

Now that Tiago is back on a surface he clearly likes, horseplayers should expect a much-improved performance.

With Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird drawing support, as well as those exiting the Pacific Classic, including victorious Richard's Kid, who won in a slow final time, the price should be right for this horseplayer to give Tiago the benefit of the doubt.

Carlsbad good alternative to chalk

Staying on the synthetic but turning to Keeneland on Saturday, I'm intrigued by the prospect of playing Carlsbad in a marquee matchup against Informed Decision in the Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America at six furlongs.

With Informed Decision proven at Keeneland, and 5 for 5 overall on synthetic surfaces, Carlsbad should offer some degree of value, with the public concentrating mostly on Informed Decision.

Admittedly, the TCA is inundated with pace - which would seem to favor Informed Decision - but in watching Carlsbad run, you get the feeling she could adapt to just about any pace scenario.

She's fast. Period.

In winning the Santa Paul Stakes at Santa Anita in March, she blitzed 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.65, with a six-furlong split in 1:08.37. and she covered 6 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar on Sept. 4 in the Rancho Bernardo in a track-record 1:14.93, this time with a 1:08.82 six-furlong split.

Going six furlongs in the TCA and in receipt of a four-pound weight break from Informed Decision, Carlsbad is the bet.

Beware of Calder shipper

Quick trivia question - what do graded-stakes-winning juveniles D' Funnybone and Blind Luck have in common? If you guessed that both began their careers at Calder before being purchased privately, you're right.

For years, Calder has been a popular buying ground for young prospects who might lack the pedigrees of those that begin their careers at the major tracks in New York and California, but, at least at the higher levels, can definitely run.

Now another acquisition - Homeboykris - races Saturday in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park on Saturday.

Don't dismiss him. He ran quickly in winning the second start of his career - granted way back in July - in a race that has proven key, and his new trainer, Rick Dutrow, has said that he likes him even more than D' Funnybone. That's a bold statement, something horseplayers have grown accustomed to Dutrow saying about the horses he likes.

Beyond his words, merely by placing him in a Grade 1, and not in a first-level allowance, is telling of how highly he regards this gelding. Dutrow doesn't run for seats in the dining room.

Beyond the trainer hype and the history of Calder juveniles doing well on other circuits, this horse is also favorably drawn on the outside. With a long run into the first turn, jockey Edgar Prado can place him in a comfortable position in the clear, with no dirt hitting him in the face.

With the Champagne having a short field and appearing soft this year, this looms like a prime opportunity for Homeboykris to shine.