Updated on 09/17/2011 11:11AM

It may be wise to shoot for the Moon


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Rooting for Harlan's Holiday in Saturday's may be the patriotic thing to do. Betting on him is another matter entirely.

Even though Harlan's Holiday is in a field full of misplaced turf horses, handicappers who closely examine his record may be hard-pressed to justify taking the expected short price in U.S. betting pools.

To begin with, there is the question of staying a classic distance. In three previous starts at 10 furlongs, Harlan's Holiday has managed one third-place finish, and has also suffered his two worst career defeats - a seventh-place finish as the lukewarm favorite in last year's Kentucky Derby, and a 26-length drubbing in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Form-cycle analysts may also be a bit leery of backing a horse to produce a third straight peak effort, especially at a questionable distance. Harlan's Holiday began his 4-year-old season with a new top Beyer of 111, and three weeks later improved to a figure of 113 winning the Donn Handicap. Notably, both those figures came at Gulfstream Park. Harlan's Holiday has run seven triple-digit Beyers in his career, and five of them have come at Gulfstream.

Frankly, this year's renewal of the Donn fell far below Grade 1 standards. There were no Grade 1 winners in the lineup except for Harlan's Holiday, whose pair of Grade 1 wins in last spring's Derby preps came against such horses as Blue Burner and Booklet, neither of whom are top-class runners. Finishing a clear second in the Donn was Hero's Tribute, who is best remembered for splashing his way to a win in the Peter Pan Stakes nearly two years ago. It remains his biggest accomplishment, and his lone win in a graded stakes from 13 attempts. The third-place horse in the Donn was Puzzlement, a plodder familiar to East Coast fans whose four previous starts in graded stakes resulted in defeats by a combined 32 lengths. He remains eligible for third-level allowance conditions.

But if you don't like Harlan's Holiday, then what? Blue Burner is the only other American-based horse, but he has already lost three times to Harlan's Holiday. And when was the last time a deep closer won at Nad Al Sheba, which may be the most speed-favoring surface this side of Keeneland?

Grandera is the leading earner with nearly $2.6 million, and a three-time Group 1 winner on turf. But his first start on dirt was a half-length win over Grundlefoot at Nad Al Sheba three weeks ago. Remember Grundlefoot? Before being exported to Saudi Arabia ("nicely sold," as they say in the trade), Grundlefoot's biggest claim to fame in the U.S. was an all-out score in Pimlico's Baltimore Breeders' Cup Handicap. In his final U.S. start at Saratoga last summer, Grundlefoot finished sixth, 13 lengths behind Evening Attire.

The two remaining European Group 1 winners besides Grandera are total mysteries on dirt. Nayef hasn't run since last August, but did win in Dubai off a layoff last year on turf. Aquarelliste is a 5-year-old mare with plenty of experience against males, but her rate-and-finish style is against the track profile.

The horse to catch and beat may be the Godolphin-owned Moon Ballad. It seems significant that Frankie Dettori, who rode Moon Ballad's stablemate Grandera in his last nine starts, has abandoned that horse in favor of Moon Ballad, even after riding Grandera to a front-running win at Nad Al Sheba last month.

Moon Ballad, a son of 1997 Dubai World Cup winner Singspiel, has enough speed to clear the field from his outside post, and appears primed for another big effort.

Carson Hollow vs. Raging Fever

It's not exactly a banner weekend in terms of stateside stakes racing, with the major Derby preps scheduled for the first two weeks in April.

Aqueduct's Distaff Handicap drew just six older fillies and mares, and it is obviously a two-horse race if last year's winner, Raging Fever, and the speedy Carson Hollow bring their "A" games.

Raging Fever won last year's Distaff on the front end after getting away with a leisurely first quarter, but she won't have that luxury again. She also took the worst of the post position draw when she got the rail.

Carson Hollow, meanwhile, drew advantageously outside Raging Fever, and should be in position to dictate the tempo. She also has the edge of a recent race under her belt, while Raging Fever has been idle since losing four straight times as the favorite last summer and fall.