09/22/2011 3:44PM

Fairplex Park: Luckarack, Downhill Diva may be vulnerable chalk in stakes

Benoit & Associates
Luckarack will stretch out to 1 1/16 miles in Saturday's Pomona Derby at Fairplex Park.

POMONA, Calif. – The handicapping challenges that face bettors Saturday at Fairplex Park go beyond the intriguing $50,000 stakes doubleheader on the final weekend of the Los Angeles County Fair meet.

The 12-race all-Thoroughbred card Saturday is packed with full fields, and even races with smaller lineups are potential traps. Those include the seven-runner Pomona Derby (race 9) and eight-runner Las Madrinas Handicap (race 11) for fillies and mares.

In both races, identifying the favorite is easy. Finding the winner on the five-eighths mile Fairplex racetrack could be more difficult.

Luckarack is the best, fastest horse in the Pomona Derby. However, he is widely considered to be a pure sprinter. Can a sprinter win a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds that will be run around three turns? Due to modest competition, perhaps he can.

Downhill Diva is the best horse in the Las Madrinas for fillies and mares. And while skeptics wonder if she prefers synthetic, trainer Patricia Harrington looks forward to the 1 1/16-mile dirt race. Downhill Diva’s five career wins were all on synthetic.

“I don’t have any problem with her on dirt,” Harrington said. “I think she’ll be fine as long as she keeps turning left.”

While the Las Madrinas is stronger than the Pomona Derby, the fact is Downhill Diva enters without a question beyond surface. Her main rivals are Lilly Fa Pootz and Miss Pleasant.

Downhill Diva was a useful 4-for-13 allowance filly through the end of 2010. Sired by Swiss Yodeler, she was a longshot to even run in a stakes race. Harrington, who is married to trainer Mike Harrington, gave her an extended vacation. Good move.

“I turned her out last winter, and I think that helped her out a lot,” she said. “Sometimes these mares get better as they get older.”

Downhill Diva was off five months and proved Harrington’s point upon her return. Downhill Diva finished last in a May 27 comeback, finished third next out, then put it all together Aug. 4 at Del Mar with a romping two-turn allowance. She won by more than five lengths with a career-best 90 Beyer Speed Figure.

Harrington moved her up in class for the $95,000 Adoration at Del Mar, and Downhill Diva fired again, finishing second by a half-length to St Trinians. Jockey Brice Blanc is back aboard Downhill Diva, the preliminary 5-2 favorite in the Las Madrinas.

Lilly Fa Pootz, who has gone 12 starts and 14 months since her most recent win, will be rolling late under leading jockey Martin Pedroza. Miss Pleasant has worked well and should fire while racing for the first time in two months.

The field also includes Always in Style, No Ka Oi, Pure Class, Hopeful Union, and Church Camp.

Two races before the Las Madrinas, Luckarack is the 8-5 preliminary favorite in the Pomona Derby as he tries to duplicate his opening-day sprint stakes victory. Making his first start after being claimed for $62,500 by trainer Doug O’Neill, Luckarack won the 6 1/2-furlong Kostoff by more than four lengths, increasing his record to 6 for 13.

Agapito Delgadillo rides Luckarack, whose rivals include Uncle Sam, Red Sharp Humor, Safe Range, Nahem, Great Warrior, and Aqua Fever.

The 2011 Los Angeles County Fair meet ends Sunday with the $75,000 Ralph M. Hinds for older horses at 1 1/8 miles.