07/02/2009 12:00AM

Holiday stakes a national uprising

Email
Barbara D. Livingston
Gabby's Golden Gal, winner of the Acorn, will be challenged by Light Green in the Prioress.

NEW YORK - It's one of those years when July 4th actually falls on a Saturday, yielding a massive national stakes schedule from sea to shining sea. There's everything from the $750,000 United Nations Handicap at Monmouth to the $4,700 Independence Day Handicap at Wyoming Downs.

More later on that Wyoming race, but closest to home there's a particularly intriguing trio of Grade 1 and 2 stakes that will be contested in succession as the eighth through 10th of 11 races at Belmont Saturday afternoon: the Grade 2 Dwyer for 3-year-olds at a 1 1/16 miles; the Grade 1 Prioress for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs, and the Grade 2 Suburban at 1 1/4 miles.

The Dwyer feels like a great way to start the second half of the racing year because it has a strong field of promising 3-year-olds, not one of whom contested a Triple Crown race. This is an unusually quick group of late-bloomers: Five of the seven entrants recorded Beyer Speed Figures of 96 or better in their most recent start - a higher figure than 18 of the 19 horses ran in this year's Kentucky Derby.

Some are stepping up in distance and most are stepping up in company, but several have shown the potential to become important players in races such as the Haskell and Travers later this summer. The cast includes three horses who ran exceptional races on the undercards of Triple Crown races: Warrior's Reward, who earned a 113 Beyer beating Munnings on Derby Day, and the winners of the second and third races on Belmont Day - Just Ben, who earned a 109 Beyer winning a preliminary allowance race by 13 3/4 lengths, and Convocation, who trounced maidens.

The Prioress, the year's only Grade 1 race for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs, features a matchup between Grade 1 winner Gabby's Golden Gal and the speedy Light Green, who will be making her graded-stakes debut. Gabby's Golden Gal turns back from a mile after upsetting the Grade 1 Acorn on Belmont Day, while Light Green comes off a blowout victory in the overnight Fall Aspen Stakes May 15, where her six furlongs in 1:08.32 translated to a sensational 109 Beyer. Light Green and Gabby's Golden Gal are daughters of Pleasantly Perfect and Medaglia d'Oro, respectively, first-crop sires who ran one-two in that order in both the 2003 Breeders' Cup Classic and 2004 Dubai World Cup.

The Suburban, won by Mineshaft in 2003 and Invasor in 2006 as part of their Horse of the Year campaigns, was downgraded to a Grade 2 this year after a couple of very light runnings. (Go ahead, for a gazillion dollars, name the top three finishers the last two years. Give up? Political Force, Fairbanks, and Malibu Moonshine in 2007, and Frost Giant, Solar Flare, and Rising Moon in 2008.) Still, in a season where the top older dirt males have been a subpar and ragged bunch beyond Einstein, who's to say that It's a Bird isn't as good as anyone off his victories in the Sunshine Millions Classic, Oaklawn Handicap, and Lone Star Handicap?

With a $400,000 purse, the Suburban offers 85 times as much prize money as the aforementioned Independence Day at Wyoming Downs, but it's not entirely clear that the purse of the latter is the smallest of the 50 or so stakes races being run across America Saturday. It depends on whether you want to count the $1,000 Airline and Travel Partner Stakes at Flagstaff, which is open to both Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses - but with "Quarter Horses preferred." That preference did not have to be invoked when a field of only eight was entered for the 730-yard (3.31-furlong) event, including one Thoroughbred: Little Grey Lady, a 5-year-old daughter of Worldly Manner and a Devil's Bag mare.

Join the medication discussion

This columnist has been invited to speak at the Jockey Club's Round Table Conference in Saratoga on Aug. 23 about "the way Thoroughbred racing medication issues are perceived by bettors, the public, and the media." In order to collect and present a representative range of viewpoints, I invite readers to share their opinions and recommendations on this thorny topic. You can join the discussion by leaving a comment on my blog at or regular mail c/o DRF at 100 Broadway, New York, NY, 10005.