05/24/2007 12:00AM

Leesider capable of upset vs. Cobalt Blue


NEW YORK - With most of the big stakes races - the Met Mile, the Lone Star Park Handicap, the Gamely, and the Shoemaker Mile - on Monday, this Memorial Day weekend gets off to a modest start stakes-wise Saturday. There are only three graded stakes - the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay Handicap at Belmont Park and two Grade 3s, the Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs, and the Hanshin Cup Handicap at Arlington Park.


The Hollywood Park Saturday feature is for 3-year-olds who might have designs on the Swaps Breeders' Cup Stakes late in the meet. Cobalt Blue is a solid favorite off his victory in the San Felipe in March and the fact that he was a candidate for the Kentucky Derby until only a week before that race, when his people concluded it would be better to take a less ambitious path. Cobalt Blue will be tough to beat Saturday if he duplicates his San Felipe performance, even if he did benefit from an easy trip that day. But I think he is a bet against. His seventh most recently in the Illinois Derby as the even-money favorite was dismal, and he subsequently failed to impress workout watchers in Kentucky.

I like Leesider, who will be stepping outside of races restricted to California-breds for the first time, but is in the best form of his career. Leesider was very game prevailing in the Snow Chief Stakes at this distance over this track last time out. He did the dirty work of keeping the front-runner honest, and was still good enough to wear that front-runner down. On Saturday, Leesider breaks from the rail, which isn't a bad place on Hollywood's Cushion Track, and he might well find himself to be the controlling speed.

Hanshin Cup Handicap

Second-place finishes in two stakes on Keeneland's Polytrack from his last four starts is probably why Lewis Michael is the morning-line favorite in this race, albeit a tepid one at 7-2. Here's hoping the betting public agrees, because that will help boost the price on Purim, whom I prefer to bet on.

Given that he was beaten less than a length last time out in the Maker's Mark by Kip Deville, who is one of the best turf milers around, and Showing Up, who has the strong potential to be one of the best turf horses in the nation this year, Purim is certainly good enough to win this. While it is true this will be his first start on a synthetic surface, the fact that he is effective on turf bodes well for a successful surface switch, as does the fact that he is also a graded stakes winner on dirt. Moreover, Purim projects to sit a perfect outside stalking trip off a pace that figures to be quick and contested. And that is just the kind of horse I look for on Polytrack, even if Arlington's version of it seems, at least so far, to carry speed a little better than Keeneland's does.

Louisville Handicap

I may regret picking against Hotstufanthensome, a pet of mine who is perfectly capable of winning this. But Always First ran a big race when he narrowly missed in the Elkhorn at Keeneland in his first start of the year, and he is an appealing play as he gets a much more favorable setup this time.

Despite being severely compromised by a pace in the Elkhorn that was extremely slow, Always First finished strongly into a final quarter-mile run in a quick 24.27 seconds. On Saturday, Transduction Gold, who ran fourth in the Elkhorn after establishing slow fractions, will have company early in the form of I Believe in Me and Fri Guy. In other words, the pace figures to be much more honest, which should only make Always First's late kick even more effective.