08/28/2008 11:00PM

Four stakes close out Spa 2008


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - When the 359th and final race of the meet is run on Labor Day, another six weeks of summer camp for horseplayers will be complete.

Before then, there are four graded stakes to be run - two Grade 3 turf routes, and a pair seven-furlong Grade 1 races for 2-year-olds. Here's a look at the fields for Sunday's Saranac and Spinaway, and the probable contenders for Monday's Glens Falls and Hopeful.

Saranac: Lengthened to its present 1 3/16 miles in 1997, the Saranac came up very light for its 101st running; the field of eight 3-year-olds includes a maiden shipper from England, and four others eligible for a first-level allowance.

While the last six renewals have been won in a narrow Beyer range of 95-99, the top grass figure here belongs to Nistle's Crunch, who ran a 91 finishing third in the American Turf.

Nistle's Crunch hasn't had a chance to run on firm turf since winning a second-level allowance at Keeneland. That victory came 18 days after a 19-length defeat in the Florida Derby, so he has the capacity to bounce back after being beaten by a similar margin in the Haskell.

The most interesting horse is Ready's Echo, who has been freshened up since rallying seven wide on a rail-favoring track to dead heat for third the Belmont Stakes.

Sired by More Than Ready and out of a Kingmambo mare, Ready's Echo is bred both sides to handle the grass, and his deep-closing style will play much better on the other side of the rails.

Spinaway: Ashado, an eventual champion at 3 and 4, won this race with a Beyer of 84 in 2003, and four winners since then have all been in a similar range: Sense of Style (88), Adieu (83), Appealing Zophie (83), and Irish Smoke (84).

The race's recent history suggests that Mani Bhavan, who is back 18 days after winning the Adirondack with a figure of 100, could bounce and still win. But she may not have a big margin for error, because several others have already run to the Spinaway par: Casanova Move (85) and Mine All Mine (86) won maiden races by more than nine lengths while in hand, and Collegiate (91) was merely shown the whip winning her debut at Belmont.

Collegiate has rebound potential after a tough-trip fourth to Jardin in a slowly run Schuylerville.

Hopeful: My pick in the 2000 Hopeful was Evening Attire, who was coming off a nose win against maidens in his second career start. He finished seventh, beaten more than 14 lengths, and recorded the lowest Beyer (55) of his 69-race career, which is still going strong.

Not that I feel old, but Evening Attire's rider that day was Robbie Davis, whose daughter, Jacqueline, is named to ride Easter Guardian in Sunday's opener.

The last five Hopeful winners all earned Beyers in the 90-96 range, and four of Monday's probable starters have already been there, done that - the New York-bred Cribnote demolished maidens with a 90 on the first Sunday of the meet; Munnings, a $1.7 million purchase in February, also got a 90 for his winning debut on Whitney Day; and Precious Package has had four weeks since a maiden win with a 92. Notonthesamepage's 104 for a maiden win at Churchill Downs is somewhat suspect, since figures at 4 1/2 furlongs tend to be on the high side.

The most accomplished horse in the prospective field is also one of the slowest, at least so far. Desert Party was the $2.1 million topper at Fasig-Tipton's Calder select sale in February, after working an eighth of a mile in 10.40 seconds. He got a 71 for winning his debut, but that was from post 10 on Polytrack. A month later, his winning figure in the Sanford was a 78, but that race was run on a sealed, muddy track, and he overcame adversity after being shuffled back inside around the turn.

Glens Falls: As might be expected in a 1 3/8-mile turf stakes, the last five years have produced five foreign-bred winners (from Ireland, Great Britain, Germany, and New Zealand), including both divisions in 2004.

This year, however, you need look no further than Dynaforce, a Kentucky homebred who is a three-quarter sister to Bowman Mill, a Grade 2 winner at 1 3/8 miles, and a half-sister to Cetewayo, an 11-time winner of more than $1.1 million, including the 12-furlong Sword Dancer.

Dynaforce has been very impressive in both of her U.S starts, a neck loss to divisional leader Mauralakana and a pace-pressing second in the Diana on a Mellon course that favored deep closers early at the meet.