10/08/2009 12:00AM

Hard to separate two synthetic specialists

Barbara D. Livingston
Informed Decision, with groom Liz Crow, owns a 5-for-5 record racing on synthetic surfaces.

In contrast to Saturday's Grade 1 Dixiana Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland - in which many of the juveniles are trying a route or a synthetic surface for the first time - the Grade 2, $250,000 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes on the undercard presents few unknowns.

All eight of the fillies and mares entered have experience at the six-furlong distance and have raced on a synthetic track.

Two, Informed Decision and Carlsbad, have been spectacular on the synthetics, with Informed Decision going 5 for 5 on such tracks, and Carlsbad having three wins and a second from four starts on synthetic surfaces. Both horses also set a track record on a synthetic surface, with Informed Decision having the seven-furlong record at Keeneland (1:20.86), and Carlsbad establishing the 6 1/2-furlong mark at Del Mar (1:14.93).

David Carroll, trainer of longshot Selva, described the TCA, which was upgraded this year from a Grade 3 to a Grade 2, as "very tough."

"But it beats going to Grove City, Ohio for the weekend," he quipped, referring to Beulah Park.

The TCA is a Win and You're In race for the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

The millionaire and two-time Grade 1 winner Informed Decision, who has earned Beyer Speed Figures of 101 or higher in four of her five synthetic starts, may hold a tactical advantage in the TCA, being a stalker in a field loaded with speed.

Carlsbad has led at the first call in all nine of her starts. But her regular jockey, Tyler Baze, is confident she can sit off the speed if necessary.

"She'll rate off horses," he said. "She's push-button."

Carlsbad, 3, possesses the top last-race Beyer Speed Figure in the race, a 98, earned in her track record performance in beating older females in the 6 1/2-furlong Rancho Bernardo Stakes on Sept. 4 at Del Mar.

Jeff Mullins trains Carlsbad, an Arizona-bred daughter of Rocky Bar owned and bred by Dennis Weir.

Besides Selva, other notable entrants in the TCA include Porte Bonheur, a stakes winner last fall over Woodbine's Polytrack who won the Grade 2 First Flight on dirt at Belmont in June, and Bold Union and Pious Ashley, the first- and second-place finishers from the Grade 3 Endine Stakes at Delaware Park on Sept 12.

The longshots Awesome Ashley and Life Lesson complete the field.

Woodford: Mr. Nightlinger overdue

The first of five stakes Saturday at Keeneland is the Grade 3 Woodford, which goes as the fifth race, right before the TCA.

A 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint, it drew a field of nine, led by Mr. Nightlinger, Silver Timber, and Fort Prado.

Although Mr. Nightlinger is just 1 for 5 this year, trainer Bret Calhoun said he believes he is capable of returning to his form of last year, when he won 6 of 9 starts.

Calhoun said interruptions in training and poor trips have been in part responsible for Mr. Nightlinger's less productive year. Mr. Nightlinger's training has gone well since he finished third in the $250,000 Turf Monster at Philadelphia Park on Sept. 7, and with approximately a month between starts, "I'm expecting a big race," Calhoun said.

Fort Prado, coming off a victory in the Kentucky Cup Turf Dash on Sept. 19 at Kentucky Downs, was third in this race last year. He won the Woodford in 2007.

Mr. Nightlinger and Fort Prado are stakes winners over the Keeneland turf course, but the Woodford marks the first race over the Keeneland grass for Silver Timber. He has won 3 of 4 races this year, including the Grade 3 Jaipur at Belmont. Most recently, he was a close second behind Cannonball in the Sept. 6 Commentator Stakes at Saratoga.