01/30/2003 1:00AM

Kafwain could be vulnerable


When it comes to Saturday's stakes racing, the focus will be on Santa Anita, where Medaglia d'Oro, one of the best 3-year-olds in the nation last year, and Kafwain, one of the better 2-year-olds last season, will make their first starts of 2003 in the $400,000 Strub and the $150,000 San Vicente, respectively. The Strub is, of course, is a major race in its own right, and it is also a stepping-stone to next month's Santa Anita Handicap. The San Vicente, meanwhile, is a potential launching pad for 3-year-olds with classic aspirations.

But, Saturday is a big day at Turf Paradise, as well, where there will be a stakes tripleheader, including the $100,000 Turf Paradise Derby. And, there are also a wide variety of stakes for several divisions at tracks from coast to coast, meaning Saturday will be a busy, and eclectic day of stakes racing.

Here are the three stakes I chose to spotlight:

Turf Paradise Breeders' Cup Handicap

I'm going with Duke of Green in as much of a negative handicap for some of his key opponents, like Thady Quill, Night Patrol, and Century City, as a positive handicap for him.

Thady Quill and Night Patrol are the best horses in this race. But, Thady Quill, who hasn't raced since last May, looked like he lost a step last year, and he's 6 now. Night Patrol just turned 7, and his last two efforts weren't pretty. As for Century City, who will be well supported with Laffit Pincay Jr. riding, he must show me more after dull performances in his last two starts.

Duke of Green may not be quite as "classy" as those mentioned above, as he was claimed for $100,000 from his last start. However, he did fly home his last quarter-mile that day in around 23 seconds to narrowly miss, and he goes Saturday for a barn with excellent statistics first start off the claim. Moreover, Duke of Green figures to Beyer around 102 Saturday, the exact number he earned in his last two starts. Unless Thady Quill or Night Patrol remember who they used to be, it's doubtful anyone else in this field will be able to Beyer as high.

San Vicente

The reason why I selected this race over the Strub is that Kafwain looks like a more vulnerable favorite cutting back to a sprint off three consecutive two-turn races than Medaglia d'Oro, who has run big fresh, and who is fresh going into the Strub.

My pick here is Southern Image, whose emphatic victory in the first start of his career opening day at Santa Anita not only received a competitive Beyer of 96, but also received a huge boost since then. The regally bred Ministers Wild Cat, who was beaten three lengths by Southern Image that day, returned to win his next start by 7 1/2 lengths.

In addition, Southern Image figures to sit a beautiful trip on Saturday. The two horses drawn inside of him have some speed, whereas the three rivals drawn outside of him don't. So, Southern Image has the advantage of being able to either stalk the speed from the outside, or send, depending on how the pace unfolds.


Devil at the Wire is my selection despite the possibility that she may look for trouble more than hitting the finish line first. The comment line in her last four starts include the terms bumped, exchanged bumps, bumped foe, and bumped rivals, all of which suggests Devil at the Wire would rather beat up her opponents than beat them.

However, horses like Devil at the Wire usually get better with experience, and Devil at the Wire doesn't have to improve much to win here. She was beaten less than a length last time out by the streaking Sweettrickydancer - who deserves to be the favorite on Saturday - while turning in her third straight sharp effort since adding blinkers. In fact, that was the third straight time Devil at the Wire had a Beyer of 80 or better, something the rest in this field have yet to do.

Devil at the Wire also showed she can come from off the pace effectively on turf, an approach called for in this spot. Yet, Devil at the Wire has the positional speed to get first jump on Sweettrickydancer, and that could be advantageous considering the trouble a deep closer like Sweettrickydancer can encounter in a large field like this.