08/07/2009 12:00AM

Finding the top two in day's stakes


LEXINGTON, Ky. - I'll concentrate on exacta bets while trying to make money on three graded stakes races Sunday.

Zenyatta appears to be holding most of the aces in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch, a $300,000 stakes for fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles at Del Mar. She is undefeated in 11 races and won her last four races comfortably while being geared down late.

Stablemate Life Is Sweet looms as the primary threat. They met two races ago in the Grade 2 Milady at Hollywood Park and put on a good show. Life Is Sweet was fifth early in that six-horse field, with Zenyatta trailing. Zenyatta rallied and attempted to move up inside of Life Is Sweet on the backstretch but lacked room, checked, and fell back a couple of lengths. Zenyatta rallied back on the outside in the four path turning for home, while Life Is Sweet lost less ground in the two path then dove to the inside in midstretch. Despite the tougher trip, Zenyatta drew off and won by 1 3/4 lengths. The margin would have been larger if Zenyatta had been asked for her best during the last half-furlong.

Life Is Sweet improved when she tackled males next time out in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup. She was 12th of 13 early, rallied very wide, and was up to finish third. Mast Track, who finished three-quarters of a length behind her in that race, flattered her when he missed by only a nose in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap in his next start.

Even with that improvement, I suspect Zenyatta will still be too much for Life Is Sweet. I'll play a cold Zenyatta over Life Is Sweet exacta in this race.

Game Face is the filly to beat in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss, a $150,000 six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares at Saratoga. She was very consistent with 6 wins, 2 seconds, and 1 third-place finish from her first 9 races. That streak ended when she finished off the board twice as the favorite in her return from a freshening. She returned to the sidelines and then proved that she was back in form when she won the Grade 1 Princess Rooney by 6 3/4 lengths. Anything close to a similar performance would probably be good enough to win this race.

I'll key Game Face on top in the exacta over two contenders. Porte Bonheur has won four of her last six races, along with a second and a third-place finish. Her wins against Grade 2 and Grade 3 company point her out as a prime candidate in the second slot. Keep the Peace was part of the winning exacta combination in five of her last seven races. She finished second behind Game Face last time and will be a serious threat to do so again.

One race later on the Saratoga card, the Grade 2 Alfred G. Vanderbilt is a $250,000 six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and up. If this race were being run on a synthetic track, I would give Fatal Bullet a slight advantage. But I'll go a different way with this race being run on the dirt. The concern is that Fatal Bullet ran a dull race while finishing eighth of nine in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens in his lone dirt start. He earned a low 71 Beyer Speed Figure in that race and then collected five consecutive triple-digit Beyers ranging from 100 to 109 on synthetic surfaces. While it is encouraging to see that Fatal Bullet has been training well on dirt in preparation for this race, I'll give more weight to his previous race performance on that surface than I will to those works.

I'll key Fabulous Strike on top in the exacta over two contenders. Benny the Bull finished second behind Fabulous Strike in the Gradeo2 True North two races ago and deserves respect once again. Kodiak Kowboy might be better suited to longer sprint distances, but he made an early move into contention going seven furlongs last time, and continued progress is possible second time back from a vacation of nearly two months.