12/04/2008 12:00AM

Joyful's last race proves her value

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - On the whole, I largely agree with the handicapping principle that when analyzing stakes races on turf it is best to play "the class on the grass." I just happen to disagree with what constitutes class.

To a great number of horseplayers, the classiest horses are the most accomplished horses - specifically those tested in graded races. And by that measure, the public will likely make My Baby Baby and Scolara the favorites in Saturday's $60,000 Pago Hop Stakes at Fair Grounds, following a second- and third-place finish, respectively, in last month's Grade 2 Mrs. Revere Stakes.

I view class differently, believing that because races are graded before they are actually run, there will be times that a stakes race will be stronger and/or softer than its grade, or lack of grade, for that matter.

It is within that scope of thinking that I view the classiest filly in the Pago Hop to be Joyful, an 8-1 shot on the morning line who has raced in a stakes race just once in her career, that being when she ran sixth in the Rare Blend Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 5.

She represents the best type of class play - a horse who is a quality runner, but whose class is largely hidden in the past performances.

Despite the Rare Blend not being graded, this year's race was every bit as good as the Mrs. Revere, if not better. And while Joyful ran sixth, chances are likely that only two or three would have finished in front of Joyful if she had not run into traffic problems.

She was in tight on the inside early, resulting in her being taken back, and then she got stuck behind the eventual last-place finisher, Ocean Goddess, as that one began to retreat on the far turn. Joyful got clear after a few strides, but it was too late. Her opponents had gotten the jump on her.

I estimate Joyful would have run two to three lengths better without the trouble, and bear in mind she was only beaten 4 1/4 lengths by Never Retreat, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 85.

My Baby Baby and Scolara, meanwhile, posted Beyers of 88 and 86, respectively, in the Mrs. Revere - numbers that are only slightly higher than the last-race figure of Joyful.

They, in contrast, had perfect trips in the Mrs. Revere. My Baby Baby raced on the lead with her ears pricked over her favorite course, and the late-running Scolara was able to save ground and avoid traffic for much of her race, rare for a horse rallying from eighth place.

They further benefited when the race favorite, Miss Princes Jess, got hung wide and finished fifth.

I'll play Joyful in the Pago Hop and also use her in the exotics with longshot High Surf, an impressive first-level allowance winner at Churchill, and Scolara, who despite coming off a favorable trip, merits exotics use on the basis of her consistency.

My Charmer

One of the best wagering races Saturday is the My Charmer at Turfway - a race that drew a field of 12, plus two also-eligibles.

My choice is Absolutely Cindy, a 3-year-old filly facing her elders who returns to her favorite surface, the Turfway Polytrack, after a pair of competitive efforts over the Churchill Downs grass course.

In particular, I liked her last race against third-level allowance horses Nov. 21, which followed a fourth-place finish in the Mrs. Revere. Caught in a race without a true front-runner, she sat closer than usual and took a narrow lead at the eighth pole, then weakened ever so slightly to finish third behind Tremendous One and Lady Carlock, two quality older mares.

With an abundance of speed in the My Charmer, she should be able to revert to her customary style of launching a late rally. It is in that fashion that she has won all three of her races, including the John Battaglia against males at 19-1 this past March.

Native Diver

Spring House's inexperience on a synthetic surface and lack of early speed may cause some horseplayers to balk at the prospect of betting him in Saturday's Native Diver over Hollywood's Cushion Track.

Don't count me as one of them. I believe he merits a wager.

Spring House, a seven-time winner on turf with earnings of over $733,000, fits the profile of a horse who should adapt to racing over a synthetic track. He is by Chester House, whose offspring have shown an affinity for racing over all-weather tracks - with notable examples being Ventura's victory in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint and Muhannak's score in the Breeders' Cup Marathon. Both races came over Santa Anita's synthetic Pro-Ride surface.

Cushion Track has been more speed-favoring than Pro-Ride - an obstacle for the late-running Spring House - but with front-runners Past the Point and Ball Four in the lineup, the track's tendency to carry speed could be offset.