08/09/2007 12:00AM

Lady of Venice sharpest of sharp


NEW YORK - Here's hoping for good weather across the country Saturday, because all of the day's major stakes are scheduled to be run on turf. Arlington hosts the nation's biggest turf event of the summer, the Arlington Million, as well as the Beverly D. and Secretariat stakes. Calder offers two rich turf dashes: the Turf Sprint Championship Handicap and the Distaff Turf Sprint Championship Handicap. The feature at Del Mar is the La Jolla Handicap.

Beverly D. Stakes

Citronnade and Honey Ryder will battle for favoritism and both have legitimate credentials to do so. Citronnade comes into this on a five-race win streak, the last four in graded stakes, while Honey Ryder split a pair of top-class males in English Channel and Better Talk Now when second in the United Nations last time out. But neither is invincible. Citronnade's graded stakes wins came when she got loose on the lead against softer company. She's facing better Saturday, and with the speedy Jennie R. in the lineup, she is not going to get the same kind of easy trip she has been enjoying. As for Honey Ryder, she might need a little more distance to do her best.

I like Lady of Venice, who also is on a winning streak. She has won all three of her starts this year, with her performance in the CashCall Mile most recently being perhaps the best race she has ever run in this country. Lady of Venice won that event going away over Precious Kitten and earned a solid Beyer Speed Figure of 104. Precious Kitten came back to win last week's Grade 1 John C. Mabee Handicap. Moreover, Lady of Venice should relish the added distance she gets this time, as she ran well in all four of her nine-furlong attempts in this country, including the two she didn't win.

La Jolla Handicap

In a race that has a lot of good, established turf form like this one, I normally wouldn't take a horse making his first start on grass. But while this race has the winners of two of the three divisions of the Oceanside Stakes run on opening day at Del Mar (Ten a Penny and Vauquelin), as well as the gelding who was narrowly beaten in the other division (Medici Code), plus the winner of the Cinema Breeders' Cup Handicap (Worldly), I'm going with Dilemma to make a successful switch to turf.

Dilemma has kept tough company throughout his career, and he might have the most upside here. He ran into stakes winners King of the Roxy and Stormello in his first two starts. Dilemma then won two straight, including the Sunny Slope Stakes, before completing his 2-year-old season by just missing to Belgravia in the Hollywood Prevue while finishing well clear of the stakes winner Notional, among others. And when third in his first start this year, he finished behind the older Bilo, who came right back to edge Surf Cat the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap. Dilemma, who also faced older opponents when nosed last time out, moves back in with straight 3-year-olds Saturday, which is a big class drop. He should be set for a peak performance third start off a long layoff, and being by Grand Slam, an outstanding turf sire, and in view of his strong form on synthetic tracks, I'm betting he'll love turf.

Turf Sprint Championship Handicap

Everyone who saw Mach Ride's troubled fourth in last summer's King's Bishop knew he could become a good sprinter. And with blinkers on, he finally has, as he whipped a strong field last time out in the Smile Sprint Handicap. But Mach Ride has never raced on turf before. He loves wet tracks, and I have always believed horses who like off tracks won't necessarily like turf. If you believe in the feet, like I do, you know that horses with small, cuppy feet will tend to like slop, while it is horses with big flat feet who fancy turf.

I prefer Ecclesiastic off his strong, if surprising win most recently in a similar spot, the Jaipur Stakes. He has worked strongly since, and he goes for trainer Marty Wolfson, who seems to win everything at Calder these days.