06/29/2017 1:50PM

King: On firm turf, Messi can achieve his goal in United Nations

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Michael Burns
Messi has the stamina for the 1 3/8 miles of the Grade 1 United Nations.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The classiest horse in Saturday’s Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park isn’t hard to find. It is Beach Patrol, the race’s lone Grade 1 winner and the leading money earner with $862,945.

Still, I have a trust issue with him. Having watched him settle for minor awards at relatively short prices in five starts since narrowly winning the Grade 1 Secretariat last summer, I simply don’t have the faith to take a short price that he is ready to stick his nose in front, even against a field in the United Nations that is comprised mostly of Grade 2 or Grade 3 runners.

My alternative value-based play is Messi, who ran well in his seasonal debut, finishing third behind Smooth Daddy and Time Test in a slow-paced Fort Marcy on May 6 over yielding ground at Belmont Park. This gelding has recorded all four of his U.S. victories on firm turf, and given a weather forecast calling for partly cloudy skies in central New Jersey on Saturday, firm turf is expected.

This horse also can stay. A winner from 1 1/8 miles to 1 3/8 miles, he already has won a three-turn grass race, at Saratoga in 2015 – something Beach Patrol has not yet attempted. So, if Beach Patrol is too keen – which isn’t uncommon for a horse unaccustomed to such races – this could open the door for an upset, hopefully by Messi.

:: Get bonus PPs for Saturday's United Nations card at Monmouth Park with purchase of any other Saturday PPs

Lightstream should get better setup

Gulfstream Park’s Summit of Speed, as its name suggests, focuses on races for speed, though for horseplayers, it is a test of stamina with 14 races.

The most intriguing race is the Princess Rooney, a Grade 2 at seven furlongs that drew a large field of female sprinters and offers numerous puzzles to horseplayers.

Handicappers must evaluate how Dearest and Distinta will perform after being out of action since March, whether Curlin’s Approval is ready to rebound from a pair of lackluster performances, and if Lightstream can step up her game with a return to Gulfstream Park, where she ran a career-best 103 Beyer Speed Figure in March 2016 in her last local appearance.

My money is on Lightstream. Although I have been disappointed by her at times, her third-place finish in the Grade 3 Bed o’ Roses at Belmont on June 9 leads me to believe that she is in top form.

That day, she was disadvantaged by a slow pace that forced her to chase while wide and made it hard for her to close the gap on By the Moon and Mia Torri, the front-runners and her primary foes. It is to her credit that she made it close, beaten three-quarters of a length and just a head behind pacesetter Mia Torri.

That race may have been a Grade 3, but it was more representative of a Grade 2. The victorious By the Moon has the potential to win a Grade 1 this year, and Mia Torri, while not that classy, is a tough mare when she gets her own way, and she did by setting a slow pace in the race.

Barring the unexpected, a slow pace shouldn’t unfold in the Princess Rooney, setting the stage for Lightstream’s closing rally.

Melmich can repeat at Woodbine

Not to be overlooked is the Grade 3 Dominion Day Stakes at Woodbine, where Melmich deserves to be favored but likely won’t be with Are You Kidding Me taking support, making Melmich the likely second betting choice.

Loaded with stamina, Melmich is the defending champion in this 1 1/4-mile race, having defeated a better field in the 2016 renewal, one that included runner-up Breaking Lucky, who is not back for a try this year after recently finishing third in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. That leaves a fairly modest field for Saturday’s race, in which Are Your Kidding Me likely will be the public’s choice after a troubled, traffic-filled trip when second in the Eclipse Stakes.

Are You Kidding Me is a very nice horse, one of the most consistent runners on the synthetic surface at Woodbine, but his best distance is from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles.

Melmich, on the other hand, is just getting warmed up at 1 1/16 miles, and he won a nice allowance at that distance by three lengths in his seasonal debut May 31 while prepping for this race.