06/21/2009 11:00PM

Final Count has Turf Cup style

Email

NEW YORK - Saturday is a big day and night at a number of tracks around the country, some of which aren't usually thought of as mega-racing centers. Colonial Downs has the richest event of the day with the Grade 2, $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup, supported very nicely by the Grade 3, $150,000 All Along Stakes. And it's Prairie State Festival Day at Arlington Park with six stakes for Illinois-breds.

At night, there's the Charles Town Races and Slots Sprint Festival, led by two $250,000 stakes, the Charles Town Invitational Dash and the Red Legend Stakes, which lured Preakness participant Big Drama. And it's also Pennsylvania statebred night at Presque Isle Downs with three such stakes races, plus another hundred-grander thrown in for good measure.

Churchill Downs, meanwhile, doesn't even have a stakes on its Saturday card, no doubt intimidated by all the above stakes action (just kidding, Churchill ran plenty of stakes last week, although it might have been nice to hold one over for this week). But Belmont Park offers the Grade 2, $250,000 New York Stakes, which will be run on soggy turf if it even remains on the grass, and Hollywood Park has the Grade 3, $100,000 Affirmed Handicap.

Colonial Turf Cup

One of the biggest keys to this race, to me, is identifying who will appreciate the 1 3/16-mile distance. And that's why this race is appealing. I don't think either one of the first two favorites on the morning line really wants to go this far.

Potential favorite Battle of Hastings ran well when he was a close second going 1 1/16 miles last time out in the American Turf at Churchill Downs, but he didn't have quite as strong a late kick as he did when he won his previous two starts, the one-mile La Puente and the Baldwin on Santa Anita's downhill course. It's possible his late kick might be even more muted going an additional furlong in this spot.

Take the Points, who finished last of 13 in the Preakness most recently, is second choice on the morning line. But when he was on the Triple Crown trail, I had serious doubts he was at home going even nine furlongs. I actually think that at this point of his career, he's best as a one-turn miler. And on top of it all, this would be Take the Points's first start on turf.

Beyond Battle of Hastings and Take the Points, I'm not convinced that even Lime Rickey, who might well wind up battling Battle of Hastings for favoritism, will love this trip despite being bred for it.

I like two up-and-comers who are bred to be serious turf horses, and who have given indications so far that they will like this distance. I'm picking Final Count, but consider Rescue Squad to be a strong contender.

Final Count comes into this looking for his third straight. He was a very game maiden winner on Keeneland's Polytrack two starts back after disputing the pace in a race where the other immediate pace players were nowhere at the finish. Most recently, Final Count scored decisively on the turf at Churchill, showing the kind of stalk-and-pounce move that could pay dividends here, and on the kind of cut ground he's likely to get Saturday. Notably, Final Count is a full brother to Communique, who has earned more than $555,000 on the turf, and who was a fast-closing second in the Grade 1 Beverly D. last summer at this distance. So Final Count has license to improve with experience and distance.

As for Rescue Squad, he is a half-brother to multiple turf graded stakes winner Criminologist, and being by Dynaformer, he figures to want to go longer. Rescue Squad won big on Polytrack at Keeneland in his last, and when third on turf two starts back behind subsequent Woodlawn winner Affirmatif, he was compromised when forced wide into the first turn.

Obeah Stakes

This is one of two stakes on Saturday's card at Delaware Park, and Unbridled Belle will be looking to repeat in this race. I'll be betting against her, though. Unbridled Belle crawled on the lead when she won this event last year, and that won't happen again. I'm also going against Skylighter here for similar reasons. Aside from some program scratches, one huge factor in her daylight score in the DuPont Distaff last time out on the Preakness undercard was the very slow pace she got away with.

All Night Labor is the play. Despite what Unbridled Belle did in this race last year, or what Skylighter did last time out, All Night Labor is the one true front-runner in this race, and I envision her having complete control of the pace. It also doesn't hurt that, off her two solid performances this year, All Night Labor looks like she's in the best form of her career.

Charles Town Invitational Dash Handicap

What can I say? I'm a fool for any 4 1/2-furlong race with a $250,000 purse slapped on it.

Joey P. won this race last year, and he might be coming into his title defense in even better form, considering his win in this year's Reilly Handicap at Monmouth most recently was six Beyer points higher than his win in last year's Reilly. But this year's Dash drew a tougher field.

I'll admit, I tried to pick Sea of Pleasure because of his California speed, but was frightened off by his unknown connections. So I'm going with the local hope, Trust or Bust.

Trust or Bust has won four straight, three at the distance over the track. And while he's got the speed to be in this from the start, he can also win from off the lead. I also like that he has a successful local rider, which can be an advantage in unique races at unique tracks like this one.