06/21/2009 11:00PM

First turf try may boost Massone in Cinema

Michael Burns
Tasty Temptation is another filly with the size and talent to beat colts.

PHOENIX - It's at this time of the year that 3-year-olds thrive. It's a coming-out party, and a pecking order gets established.

I'm not talking about those 3-year-olds - you know, the "Bird" boys, "Rachel," et al. I'm referring to another division, namely the turf. The time has come to get some separation as major 3-year-old turf stakes such as the Secretariat, Virginia Derby, Del Mar Derby, and others are only a couple months away. Back east we've already seen the emergence of Giant Oak. A big win by Barbaro's baby brother, Nicanor, on the Delaware Park sod Wednesday stamps him as a comer in the division. The West Coast gets its chance Sunday in the Grade 3 Cinema Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on the Hollywood Park lawn.

Battle of Hastings may rank as the West's top grass 3-year-old, but he's not in the Cinema. None of the Cinema combatants has shown the kind of promise as their aforementioned peers, but when you're talking about young, inexperienced horses things can change in a hurry.

Massone, a Ron McAnally trainee, is a son of top-class dirt router Menifee. He did enough good work on synthetic footing earlier this year to get onto the Derby trail. He was a strong-finishing second to Chocolate Candy in Golden Gate's Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby on Feb. 14, was freshened two months, and came back to be third to General Quarters in the Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 11.

Despite those two good showings, his connections opted to skip the Triple Crown grind and return west, probably a wise move. They decided to try turf for the first time in Golden Gate's Alcatraz on May 23, and the horse responded. He was away slowly in the 1 1/16-mile event but steadily advanced and finished strongly to be third, beaten just a length at 7-10. Arden Park, a rival in the Cinema, finished second, a nose in front of him.

Massone may have the most upside. Not only can he benefit from that first turf try and this longer distance, but he comes here relatively fresh and is reunited with Garrett Gomez.

Arden Park certainly merits respect, having beaten Massone in the Alcatraz. It's also nice to see Rafael Bejarano climb aboard.

Another interesting runner is Elusive Bluff. The son of multiple Grade 3 turf winner Elusive Quality won his first two career starts, both on the turf at Belmont last summer/fall, including the Grade 3 Pilgrim on Oct. 1. Trouble is, he hasn't been seen since. He no doubt has talent, but that's a long layoff to overcome.

Ladies first . . . again?

There was much hubbub, and rightly so, regarding Rachel Alexandra's win over males in the Preakness a month ago. But a top-class girl being competitive with top males isn't anything new. Just this March, Indian Blessing, the champion sprinting distaffer last year, darn near beat the boys when second in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen, and top-class turf distaffer Ventura nearly beat them when second by a nose to Gio Ponti (who came back to win the Grade 1 Manhattan at Belmont) in the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita.

Sunday presents another opportunity, this time north of the border. Woodbine's Queen's Plate brings together Canada's top 3-year-olds and in the mix comes a filly who should strike fear in the hearts of the boys.

Tasty Temptation, a filly by Medaglia d'Oro (also sire of Rachel Alexandra), must deal with some tough boys, yes, and another tough girl in Milwaukee Appeal, but the big filly may be primed for a top effort.

Tasty Temptation rallied from far back to be second in the La Lorgnette at Woodbine on May 17. She had a terrible draw (post 12) and a very sluggish start in the Woodbine Oaks on June 7. However, she still made a strong, threatening run into the lane, but the wide trip and having to use too much fuel took its toll in the final furlong of 1 1/8-mile event and she couldn't sustain her run. She ended second to the aforementioned Milwaukee Appeal, beaten 3 3/4 lengths. She still finished 5 1/2 lengths ahead of the rest.

When a filly takes on the boys you assess talent, but you also look at the purely physical aspect. As Bob Baffert once astutely put it, bump a filly and she might withdraw. Bump a colt, though, and he's gonna bump you back. In a big field with a race of such importance, there's going to be bumping here so you need a filly with some size. Well, Tasty Temptation has it. Even trainer Mark Casse said only a couple of her male rivals will be bigger.

She has the size to withstand males, the talent to run at this level, and the style and pedigree to relish 1 1/4 miles. Another strike for the girls?