01/03/2008 12:00AM

Halo Najib should close this time


NEW YORK - The first Saturday of the new year finds graded stakes doubleheaders at both Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita.


It will be interesting to see what the betting public does in this race with Big Truck and the Nick Zito-trained entry of Cool Coal Man and Coal Play. Big Truck had an awful trip last time out in the Remsen, although it's hard to be certain exactly how well he ran in finishing fourth since that race was run so slowly. As for the Zito entry, both Cool Coal Man and Coal Play ran well winning before unsuccessful attempts in stakes in their most recent start. Here's hoping the betting public falls in love with these two betting interests, because Halo Najib strikes me as being a strong play.

Halo Najib also comes off a losing stakes start, as he and Cool Coal Man dueled each other into defeat in the Kentucky Jockey Club. But Halo Najib ran a much better race. Cool Coal Man was finished before turning for home, while Halo Najib was still battling for the lead in deep stretch before fading to fifth. Halo Najib's near-miss two starts back in the Iroquois Stakes was an especially strong effort. Making only the second start of his career, he was edged by Court Vision, who came back to win the Remsen. It's also important to note that in the Iroquois, an extended one-turn race not too different from this one, Halo Najib made a good run from off the pace. That closing style should be flattered by this race's projected pace scenario.

San Pasqual Handicap

I wasn't at the wedding when Heatseeker won the Native Diver Handicap last month at 30-1. And even though Heatseeker won't go off anywhere close to that price in this race, I'm hoping I won't be going to the wake when I take him to score right back.

The striking thing abut this event is the lack of serious early speed, and how iffy those who figure prominent early seem to be as betting propositions. Heatseeker, Racketeer, who finished second to Heatseeker in the Native Diver off a six-month absence, and Molengao, winner of two Grade 2 stakes last year, really do look like the three best horses, and all three are closers. What distinguishes Heatseeker for me is that I think he is a bit handier than his main rivals, and I expect him to get first run on them. I also think trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has figured out Heatseeker's hole card. Since coming into Hollendorfer's care three starts ago, Heatseeker is 2 for 2 on synthetic surfaces, and those were the first two times he finished first since coming to this country.

Turfway Prevue

The 84 and 93 Beyer Speed Figures Mr. Flamboyant earned winning and finishing second in his last two starts are significantly higher than the Beyers the other 10 entrants in this race have gotten in their careers. It could well be that Mr. Flamboyant is simply faster than everyone else in this race. But here's the rub: Those two good Beyers Mr. Flamboyant earned came after he switched from synthetic surfaces back to conventional dirt, and his prior three starts on synthetic tracks were not pretty. Maybe Mr. Flamboyant is much improved, but given that he will be racing on Polytrack Saturday, and with his ability to handle a synthetic surface in question, I'm going against him with U. S. Cavalry.

There is no doubt that U. S. Calvary likes Polytrack. His first win was a nine-length score at Turfway last September, and he followed with a win over Keeneland's Polytrack. U. S. Calvary also won most recently at Churchill Downs, despite his rider losing his whip, in his best race yet. I like his outside position here, for that's where I want my horses to be on Polytrack.