07/19/2012 3:22PM

King: Zo Impressive a playable favorite in CCA Oaks

Tom Keyser
Zo Impressive is the 2-1 morning-line favorite for Saturday's Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga.

Across the country Saturday there are numerous lucrative stakes, and almost as many short-priced favorites. From Acclamation in the Eddie Read at Del Mar, to Silver Max in the Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs, and to Royal Delta in the Delaware Handicap – there is chalk aplenty.

Because I respect all three favorites and don’t see any apparent faults in their form, those races fall in the pass category for me in terms of betting.

There is one stakes favorite on whom I plan to wager Saturday, however: Zo Impressive. The reason is an obvious one, she’s likely to be only a narrow favorite in the six-filly Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga.

Aside from Zo Impressive being a Grade 1 winner, having just won the Mother Goose, there are not many factors to draw bettors to her. She is lacking flashy Beyer Speed Figures and connections that attract overwhelming attention from gamblers, and my guess is that many horseplayers will look at the race and view her as a vulnerable public choice.

I don’t view her that way. This is an improving, consistent filly that has been in the exacta in all five of her starts. She also is making the third start of her form cycle – which often results in a peak effort for a horse – after a little spring freshening following a distant second to Grace Hall in the Gulfstream Park Oaks on March 31.

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That loss to Grace Hall, a 6 1/2-length defeat, came at Saturday’s distance of 1 1/8 miles, and based on that performance, there are likely to be doubters regarding her ability to race two turns.

But considering it was just her third start and her first around two turns, the reason for her thumping by Grace Hall may have been inexperience, not necessarily an inability to get 1 1/8 miles – not to mention that Grace Hall is a very good filly.

As for her opponents, most seem a cut below the nation’s best, but at least three in the field figure to take action for one reason or another – most notably In Lingerie and Disposablepleasure, uncoupled Todd Pletcher-trained stablemates that ran one-two in the Black-Eyed Susan, and Questing, who in her first start on dirt turned in a dominant performance, running an eye-catching 105 Beyer Speed Figure.

With that in mind, Zo Impressive seemingly has a very good shot to stick close to her 2-1 morning line – hardly get-rich odds, but certainly better than some of the odds offered on Royal Delta and other favorites Saturday.

Perfect Officer may get good setup

Other races on the Saratoga card also spark interest, with the opener, the $100,000 Willard Straight for turf sprinters going 5 1/2 furlongs, falling in that mix.

The most likely winner is Bridgetown, one of the top turf sprinters of the past couple years, but at 8-5 he’s no bargain – not with the speedy Great Mills, fresh from a layoff, likely to run with him early.

With those two quality speed horses likely to go head to head, the race could very well set up for midpack closer Perfect Officer, winner of the Grade 3 Shakertown earlier this year.

He’s already proven himself in the same league as Bridgetown and Great Mills, having run just a half-length behind the former when third in the Parx dash June 17 and having nosed out Great Mills in the Shakertown.

This is a horse that never wins by much, but he does win, having done so seven times from 24 starts on the grass. That includes a stakes win sprinting at Saratoga in 2009.

Lea looks like a single at Saratoga

Horseplayers looking for a single in multi-race gimmicks at Saratoga on Saturday can find one in the sixth race with Lea.

Well backed in his Churchill Downs debut June 10, he was unlucky to lose and only did lose because of a wide trip. Hung six wide on the final turn, he ended up covering 55 more feet than the winner, Hypothetical, according to Trakus data. He ran second, beaten three-quarters of a length.

Although ground loss can be overplayed at times – with handicappers losing sight of traffic, kickback, and other obstacles that an off-the-pace horse can experience when saving ground – you’ll get no argument from me that on turf ground loss is a big deal. Turf races, more so than dirt races, are typically decided with tight finishes, and drafting inside horses with cover is a desired trip – provided the horse gets room in the stretch.

With improvement expected from Lea second time out, and if he’s fortunate enough to run just half as wide as he did in his debut, he looks like one of the most clear-cut winners on the card.