03/08/2009 11:00PM

At long last, Court Vision returns to synthetic


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Since Oct. 6, 2007, the day Court Vision powered his way to a 1 3/4-length maiden score over Keeneland's Polytrack, I have awaited the opportunity to bet him in another race on a synthetic surface.

A mere 518 days later, that chance comes in Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Handicap over the synthetic Pro-Ride surface in Southern California.

I will forgive his connections - trainer Bill Mott and owners WinStar Farm and IEAH Stables - for the long wait. Since his victory over Polytrack, he has grossed more than $1 million in 11 subsequent starts by racing in some of the nation's most prestigious dirt and turf races.

Court Vision won the Grade 3 Iroquois and the Grade 2 Remsen on dirt at 2, and capped off his 3-year-old year in 2008 with triumphs on turf in the Grade 2 Jamaica and Grade 1 Hollywood Derby.

Even his one start as a 4-year-old, a close third behind Kip Deville in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, was a solid performance.

Yet as good as those races were, better could be on the way over a synthetic track.

The reason? Synthetic racing, particularly at high stakes levels, often rewards horses with acceleration - those that can outquicken their opponents. That was evident during the Breeders' Cup last fall at Santa Anita when horses such as Ventura, Stardom Bound, Midnight Lute, and Raven's Pass overwhelmed the opposition with sudden, off-the-pace surges.

Court Vision is not a horse lacking acceleration. This is a horse that passed the entire field in the stretch run of the 1 1/4-mile Hollywood Derby, finishing his final quarter-mile in less than 23 seconds.

Similarly, in winning the Iroquois and Remsen as a 2-year-old, he utilized his turn of foot to prevail after encountering traffic problems.

Putting aside style, his winning time from his victory on Polytrack in the fall of 2007 suggests a bright future on synthetics. Racing from behind a slow pace, he raced 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.75 - earning an 83 Beyer Speed Figure, the second highest winning Beyer from 12 juvenile route races contested over Polytrack during that meet. Only Wicked Style ran faster, earning an 88 Beyer, in taking the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity that year.

Court Vision has obviously matured and made strides since that race - and at 6-1 on the morning line for the Big Cap, he is expected to be a fair price.

Gotham: Beware of Florida shipper

Saturday's Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct also sets up as a great betting race with contention running deep in the nine-horse field.

Mr. Fantasy and Haynesfield have been unstoppable in New York this winter; I Want Revenge heads east to try dirt racing after racing competitively with Pioneerof the Nile on synthetic tracks on the West Coast; and Imperial Council and Masala invade from Florida, where they ran quickly this winter at Gulfstream.

Without a pecking order established within the group, I will try a horse that should offer value: Masala. A 5-1 shot on the morning line, he has made steady progress in each of his three starts, capped by a second in a swift Jan. 31 allowance at Gulfstream won by Take the Points, the next-out runner-up in the Grade 3 Sham at Santa Anita.

That Jan. 31 performance earned Masala a 96 Beyer - the top last-race figure in the Gotham - and a number that he looks poised to match or surpass Saturday.

Masala has also made a positive visual impression in watching his races. Although he has a tendency to break slowly, he quickly regains position and just keeps coming after the leaders.

With a lively pace expected in the Gotham, the race should play right to his closing strength.

Wide Country: Fresh filly dangerous

Lastly, shifting to the Wide Country Stakes at Laurel Park, a favorable betting opportunity exists on Haley's Lolilop. A stakes-placed filly making her first start as a 3-year-old, she is much better than her moderate Beyers suggest.

In taking a first-level allowance in her last start at Laurel on Dec. 19, she passed her rivals in a flash - going from fifth, three lengths off the pace, to first, three lengths in front - from the quarter pole to the eighth pole.

She then coasted home under a hand ride, flicking her ears and winning in a gallop.

A mild concern is that she has not raced since late last year, but starting for a winning trainer in Steve Klesaris, she will likely be ready.

Anticipate a quick pace being to her liking, as well as a stretch-out to the Wide Country's seven-furlong distance.