04/20/2005 11:00PM

Hot pace sets up Cherokee Rap


NEW YORK - Weather threatens to be a factor for many of Saturday's most important stakes races around the country, including the last major prep race for the Kentucky Derby, the at Keeneland.

A chance of a chilly rain Saturday combined with predicted thunderstorms Friday and Friday night means there is a good chance for an off track for the Lexington. Rain may also impact the supporting feature at Keeneland, the Stravinsky Stakes, which is scheduled to be run on turf.

Rain is also in the forecast for Aqueduct in New York and for Pimlico in Baltimore. At Aqueduct, the Bed o' Roses Handicap and the Fort Marcy Handicap share top billing. The Fort Marcy is intended to be the first turf stakes of the year in New York. There are five stakes on the card at Pimlico, headed by the Jim McKay Breeders' Cup Handicap and the Federico Tesio Stakes.

Jim McKay Breeders' Cup

Cherokee Rap has improved dramatically from the moderate allowance horse he used to be, and I like him to get his first stakes win at the expense of some pretty solid opponents.

Cherokee Rap has a three-race win streak dating back to last November, and both his victories this year came at this nine-furlong distance around two turns. But, Cherokee Rap really took it to a different level winning at Aqueduct most recently. Even though he scored over only four rivals, he ran away from his field in the final furlong and his 107 Beyer Speed Figure was a career best, and the best last-out Beyer in this field.

Cherokee Rap faces seasoned stakes performers such as Classic Endeavor, Presidentialaffair, and Lusty Latin, and another hot up-and-comer in Bahama John. But, Classic Endeavor, Presidentialaffair, and Bahama John are each most effective when on the early lead. That suggests the pace could be hot and contested, and that means Cherokee Rap, who is perfectly capable of rating off the pace, could fall into a perfect trip.

Sixty Sails Handicap

There has been a lot of talk this spring about how Southern California's 3-year-olds seem weaker than usual. There is reason to believe, however, that Southern California's older fillies and mares are a stronger group than originally thought. Personal Legend ran creditably against the best older females out West in her last two starts, and is the pick in this easier spot.

The status of the West's older fillies and mares was upgraded as the result of the Apple Blossom Handicap two weeks ago. Southern Californians Dream of Summer and Star Parade finished one-two, beating Ashado, last year's champion 3-year-old filly and Breeders' Cup Distaff winner, back to fifth.

Personal Legend finished well in front of Star Parade when fourth, beaten only three lengths, in the Santa Maria two starts back, and was only a little more than two lengths behind Dream of Summer when fourth again in the Santa Margarita in her most recent start. Those were both Grade 1 events, and no one else in this field has proven competitive at that level in this country.

Wilshire Handicap

I'm not sure a mile is quite enough distance for Amorama, but she is going to love the switch back to turf, and I'm going with her to get up in time.

Amorama ran some solid races on the turf last year, but none better than when she nailed the classy Ticker Tape in the Del Mar Oaks. She earned a 99 Beyer as a 3-year-old in that race, a number no one else in this field can match. Amorama raced on dirt in her last two starts, and was fourth most recently in the La Canada. She was beaten only 2 1/2 lengths by Tarlow, who came back to beat Dream of Summer in the Santa Margarita.


Pimlico: Jim Mckay Breeders' Cup Handicap
3 and up, 1 1/8 miles

Approximate post: Eastern-5:11 p.m., Central-4:11 p.m., Mountain-3:11 p.m., Pacific-2:11 p.m.; Baltimore, Md., forecast: Thunderstorms likely, 59 degrees

1Bahama John10298938-1
3Cherokee Rap10794955-1
4Lusty Latin102784010-1
8Classic Endeavor511041049-5

Track morning line

Hawthorne: Sixty Sails Handicap
Fillies and mares, 3 and up, 1 1/8 miles

Approximate post: E-5:26 p.m., C-4:26 p.m., M-3:26 p.m., P-2:26 p.m.; Stickney, Il., forecast: Breezy, 44 degrees

1Ghostly Gate9482826-1
2Friel's for Real9692755-1
4Rare Gift9788829-2
5Personal Legend9992967-2
6Isola Piu Bella96100943-1
7Uninhibited Song81836112-1

Track morning line

Hollywood Park: Wilshire Handicap
Fillies and mares, 3 and up, 1 mile, turf

Approximate post: E-7:53 p.m., C-6:53 p.m., M-5:53 p.m., P-4:53 p.m.; Inglewood, Ca., forecast: Slight chance of showers, 71 degrees

2Mea Domina9795905-2
3Belle Ange88889210-1
4Makeup Artist9288929-2
6Five Nickels83848115-1
8Blind Ambition9587975-1

Odds by Michael Hammersly