07/13/2009 11:00PM

It's hard to look past Parading


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When horseplayers ponder the past performances of Saturday's Grade 1, $700,000 Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park, I suspect many will see a closely matched field in which at least a half-dozen of the 13 starters have a legitimate shot at victory.

At least, that's what I hope they will see - because this handicapper, on the other hand, sees a standout in the field: Parading, winner of the Grade 3 Ben Ali and Grade 2 Dixie in his two most recent starts.

One simply needs to analyze his race at Keeneland in the Ben Ali, his lone race on a synthetic surface, for evidence that he is the most likely winner of the Gold Cup. Racing on short rest against an accomplished all-weather group, Parading dominated the opposition, pulling away to a 7 1/2-length victory by covering 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.82.

His time was more than a second faster than any other 1 1/8-mile race at that distance at Keeneland this spring, and earned him a 103 Beyer Speed Figure.

It was the manner in which he won, more so than his time, that was impressive. Disadvantageously drawn on the far outside in the field of seven, he hit the first turn narrowly in front, but being four wide, fell back to fifth after a quarter-mile when losing ground.

Once the field hit the backstretch and he was no longer losing ground, Parading quickly showed who was boss. He spurted clear a half-mile into the race, and the rout was on.

Coming off such a strong performance, he was a candidate to bounce in his next start - and he did slightly, regressing to a 99 Beyer, but it was nevertheless good enough for him to win the Dixie in a workmanlike performance while spotting weight.

Trainer Shug McGaughey then backed off with Parading, freshening him and pointing him for a sire-making race like the Grade 1 Gold Cup.

Admittedly, he is untested on Hollywood's Cushion Track surface or racing 1 1/4 miles, but nothing about his style or pedigree suggests those uncertainties should cause problems.

Favorably drawn in post 5, he should be able to save a bit of ground into the first turn while in a stalking position, before swinging out to advance on the leaders.

Man o' War: Edge to Gio Ponti

In other Grade 1 action, Gio Ponti is a confident selection in the Man o' War at Belmont Park - despite not having raced 1 3/8 miles and facing a rival, Midships, who figures to be loose on the lead.

Midships gives the appearance of an underlay. Although he is the speed of the race, he has enjoyed easy trips in his recent starts, while facing short fields. In winning the Grade 1 Charlie Whittingham at Hollywood Park on June 6 and Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano at Santa Anita on April 19, he defeated a total of nine opponents.

Gio Ponti, on the other hand, defeated 11 rivals in winning his last race, the Grade 1 Manhattan at Belmont on June 6. Prior to that, he won the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile over nine rivals.

A slow pace will aid him just as much as Midships, because his greatest strength is his turn of foot. He can accelerate with the best turf horses around, and a slow pace only puts him closer to Midships in the early stages.

I also like the fact that the Man o' War is a two-turn race at sweeping Belmont Park. That makes a big difference for an inexperienced marathoner, as many horses will get overly aggressive exiting the first turn coming into the stretch in a three-turn race - something Gio Ponti won't have to experience in the two-turn Man o' War.

Gio Ponti merits a win play, and to go for a larger reward, I will further play against Midships in exactas. I will use Gio Ponti on top of Grand Couturier and Dancing Forever.

Calder: Phone Marybe best bet

Turning south to Calder for its banner Summit of Speed card, Phone Marybe is the play of the day there in the J J'sDream Stakes.

Coming off a debut triumph in which she posted an 85 Beyer, she regressed second time out in graded stakes company in the Debutante at Churchill Downs, finishing a non-threatening fifth.

Forgive that race. Most young horses will bounce off a big debut figure, particularly when shipping to an unfamiliar track and suddenly finding themselves behind horses for the first time.

Now back home at Calder, Phone Marybe should run to her potential. Expect her to return to form and easily handle her opponents. She merits a win play if she stays anywhere close to her 5-2 morning-line price, and even if she drops below her morning line she is a good single in multi-race wagers.