10/30/2008 12:00AM

Handicapping Ph.D needed for this one


NEW YORK - A letdown after the Breeders' Cup last weekend was to be expected. But even factoring that in, it's still slim pickings on the national stakes schedule Saturday with only three Grade 3 races. They are the $150,000 Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct (funny how after eight weeks at Belmont Park, which is on Long Island, this race is in Queens, one of the five boroughs of New York City), plus the $100,000 Iroquois and $100,000 Pocahontas, both at Churchill Downs


This race is an interesting exercise representing some of the variables, both old and new, that horseplayers face today. Petty Things, Dr. Zic, and Honchis'n Ponchis illustrate one of the new issues we all grapple with. Petty Things earned the field's top Beyer Speed Figure of 86 winning her last, and has the third-best Beyer in this race (84) in her win three starts back. The problem is, those Beyers were earned on synthetic surfaces. Petty Things was soundly defeated in her only attempt on dirt, on which she races Saturday. But she did have trouble, and it was her career debut, so it's hard to know how much weight to attach to that loss. And as for Dr. Zic and Honchis'n Ponchis, both have a right to improve off decisive if surprising victories in their recent debuts. Trouble is, both of those wins came on Keeneland's Polytrack.

Then there are Abbott Hall, Sara Louise, and Selective, who represent more traditional handicapping issues. Abbott Hall ran away with a $150,000 stakes two starts back, much in the same manner of her big maiden win three back, and she wasn't a bad fourth most recently from a tough outside post against Laragh, who was favored in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and finished third. However, all three of Abbott Hall's races were on turf, and her one try on dirt, in her debut, wasn't nearly fast enough Beyer-wise to get a piece of this race. That's the same problem with Sara Louise and Selective. Both ran well in their debuts at Saratoga, and both won their maidens at the tough Belmont fall meet. They ought to class up, but their Beyers are weak.

The two remaining entrants are Pretty Prolific and Rachel Alexandra, and they are the ones who have the fewest questions about them. Both ran well winning their maidens over the track last June, and both have notably strong recent workout lines at Churchill. I prefer Pretty Prolific as she will be the better price off a dull-looking last-out running line that can be easily overlooked, and off a piece of comparative handicapping that suggests she might simply be the better horse.

Pretty Prolific was favored last time out in the Arlington-Washington Lassie, but finished a soundly beaten sixth without incident. That race, however, was run on synthetic, and it's easy to conclude she just didn't like the surface given how well she ran on dirt in her maiden win and in her third in the Adirondack Stakes at Saratoga. Pretty Prolific stumbled badly a stride out of the gate in the Adirondack, putting her in a no-win position against Mani Bhavan, who, after running the best race of her life to win that day, came back to take the Grade 1 Spinaway. But despite the bad start and having to angle out for room to rally in midstretch, Pretty Prolific finished very well to fall just a nose shy for second to Doremifasollatido, who came back to win the Grade 2 Matron. Moreover, Pretty Prolific finished ahead of Garden District and Simplify, who were involved in a close finish with Rachel Alexandra in Churchill's Debutante Stakes six weeks earlier.

John Henry

There's an eclectic bunch in this headliner at the Meadowlands.

There is Picou, who won a stakes at this 1 3/8-mile distance over this course most recently, but against weak 3-year-olds; Dreadnaught, who has run in jump races in three of his last four starts, and who when he was really good never really wanted to win; and the mighty Sandtique. Who is Sandtique? Well, she's a mare in here against males who was repeatedly distanced against $7,500 conditioned claimers until moving to turf, on which she has run better - but only relatively speaking when you realize Pennsylvania-bred mares are too tough for her. You almost wonder if Sandtique was entered in the wrong race.

Anyway, I like Hotstufanthensome, and not just because I've been a longtime fan, or because he could win this race on memory even if he isn't what he used to be. The main reason why I like Hotstufanthensome is that at this distance, which he can certainly handle, the pace figures to be very deliberate. That's a big benefit to this 8-year-old pro. He was uncomfortable in fast-paced races in his last two, but in his two prior to those, the paces were slow, and Hotstufanthensome posted an overnight win and a near-miss in the Oceanport Stakes. It's also interesting that Hotstufanthensome's will be making his first start for trainer Ben Perkins Jr., and shows two especially sharp recent works. That's probably not a coincidence.

Long Island Handicap

It's hard envisioning Sunshine for Life doing anything but setting sail for the lead, and Shake the Moon sure looks like she's in this race as a pacemaker for entrymate and fellow Euro shipper Astrologie - all of which means an honest pace is in the cards. That, plus a spell of dry weather that should result in firm footing makes Hostess a strong play.

Draw a line through Hostess's seventh in the E. P. Taylor most recently as she was compromised by an extremely slow early pace. But she showed what she can do when she has decent splits to run at and firm footing when she used a fast burst of late speed to win the Glens Falls Handicap. And Hostess showed she is plenty good enough to win a race like this in her battles with Grade 1 winner Mauralakana earlier in the year, one of which she won.