07/22/2009 11:00PM

Livin Lovin looks set for a big race

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NEW YORK - The first Saturday of the Del Mar meet and the last Saturday of the Belmont Park meet both feature Grade 1 events. At Del Mar, the main event is the $350,000 Eddie Read Stakes, supported by the $100,000 Fleet Treat Stakes. At Belmont, the headliner is the $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks, which attracted a nice field and not just because it's the only classic race in America for fillies. The CCA Oaks also is an infrequent opportunity this year for members of this division to go after a prestigious Grade 1 race and not run into Rachel Alexandra. And Saturday is Claiming Crown Day at Canterbury Park, with the $150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel topping this unique day of racing.

Coaching Club American Oaks

Betting value doesn't always present itself in the form of a horse who would pay $15 or more. Sometimes you encounter a race where you feel so strongly about a horse's chances that even if that horse is among the betting favorites, you still feel you're getting value as long as the horse isn't odds-on. This is just such a race for me.

With all due respect to the other entrants, the three main players in this race are Funny Moon, Casanova Move, and Livin Lovin. It's not hard envisioning any one of these three going off as favorite. Funny Moon was a popular alternative selection two starts back in the Acorn Stakes on Belmont Stakes Day off an impressive allowance win over the track. She was second choice in the betting to odds-on favorite Justwhistledixie, with everyone else in the field going off at double-digit prices. Funny Moon never really ran a jump in the Acorn, although with the way she came back to win last time out by more than eight lengths, it's easy to see how those who like her Saturday might think her Acorn miscue was an aberration best ignored.

Casanova Move and Livin Lovin also ran in the Acorn. Casanova Move will be making her first start Saturday for Todd Pletcher after being transferred out of Jimmy Jerkens's barn and will be watched closely for what that might indicate when the top-class Quality Road does the same next month at Saratoga. She hit the board in her fourth straight graded stakes when third in the Acorn, a neck in front of Livin Lovin. But to me, Livin Lovin's effort in the Acorn was by far the best of these Acorn performances and is what makes her such a strong play for me in this event.

The fact that Livin Lovin was able to lose by less than three lengths in the Acorn was much to her credit for two reasons. For one, she was making her first start in seven months, so it's likely she was somewhere below peak form for that outing. Secondly, the Acorn was run when there was a strong rail bias at Belmont. Gabby's Golden Gal, who rode the bias to upset the Acorn, came back to finish last in the Prioress. Benny the Bull, who rode the gold rail to finish second in the True North, came back to lose at 1-2 in the Smile. Eldaafer and Nite Light had gold rail trips finishing one-two in the Brooklyn, but Alcomo, who finished up the track in the Brooklyn after a wide trip, turned the tables on them in the Greenwood Cup. Those are just three examples off the top of my head of how real the rail bias was at the time of the Acorn, and Livin Lovin ran against it. As Casanova Move ran on the gold rail to the stretch and Funny Moon ran in the two path, Livin Lovin was three wide on the far turn and five wide into the stretch.

Not only does Livin Lovin figure to improve second time back off a long layoff and on an even track, she also figures to be a major pace player, much like she was when she dominated the Tempted last fall while stretching out to a distance daughters of Birdstone like her should adore.

Claiming Crown Emerald Stakes

With a 4-1 morning-line favorite and a handful of appealing possibilities that are double-digit prices on the line, this is just a wild betting race. I like Hard Top to spring the upset.

I'm willing to forgive Hard Top's dull effort last time out, because, at this point of his career, he might not want to go as far as 11 furlongs. Hard Top did, however, win three straight before that, including a nice allowance race at Delaware first off the Diane Alvarado claim. The third finisher from that race, Rockaby Bay, came back to win his next two at Colonial, including a stakes, with Beyer Speed Figures of 91 and 92.

Hard Top has as much back class as anyone in this field. He finished only three lengths behind Presious Passion in the Grade 2 McKnight Handicap late last year and was a Group 2 winner earlier in his career in France. And Hard Top hails from a barn that had stakes success with another $20,000 claim this year, winning the Brooklyn with the aforementioned Eldaafer.

Wonder Where Stakes

Miss Blakely was no match for Tasty Temptation when she was 5 1/2 lengths behind her for second in the Woodbine Oaks. But that race was run on a synthetic track, and this race will be run on turf. That can make all the difference here for Miss Blakely.

Miss Blakely was something of a revelation when moved to turf late last year, and in her strong score in the Boynton Beach at Gulfstream in April, she earned this field's top Beyer on turf. The Woodbine Oaks was Miss Blakely's only start since, and that might have principally served as a springboard for this race, which I suspect could have been her main goal all along.