06/23/2010 11:00PM

Look beyond the labels in Beverly Hills


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - If there are any lingering doubts about the hand-and-glove relationship of perception and reality, take a look at the major features being offered Saturday in New York and California.

At Belmont Park, it is Mother Goose time again, at 1 1/16 miles around one turn on the main track for the best 3-year-old fillies available after a tough winter and spring. Todd Pletcher's deep bench will be represented by three of the five runners in the field, making the race more intramural than inspiring. But one of them is the dashing Devil May Care, who split the field in the Kentucky Derby and is back on the ground over which she won last year's Frizette.

At Hollywood Park, eight older fillies and mares will go forth in the Beverly Hills Handicap, run over 10 of the most aesthetically pleasing furlongs offered by an American course. The field is an entertaining grab bag without a true standout, although players probably will be drawn to the fact that General Consensus, a daughter of Giant's Causeway, finished within a length of division leader Tuscan Evening at the Beverly Hills distance in the Santa Barbara Handicap earlier this year.

The Mother Goose is a Grade 1 race and deserves to be, for those who take such things seriously. Its winners could fill a wing of the Hall of Fame by themselves, led by Ruffian, Mom's Command, Go for Wand, Serena's Song, Cicada, Shuvee, Chris Evert, Dark Mirage, and Davona Dale. Rachel Alexandra won it last year, beating two other fillies by a pole, so don't look for the Mother Goose's Grade 1 rating to change any time soon.

The Beverly Hills enjoys a robust history, as well. Champions Royal Heroine and Track Robbery are among the winners. Champion and Hall of Famer Flawlessly won it twice, as did La Zanzara, who was good enough to defeat males in the San Juan Capistrano; Megahertz, the crowd-pleasing pocket rocket trained by Bobby Frankel; Astra, who set the stakes record in 2002; and New Zealand's Black Mamba, winner of the two most recent runnings.

Unfortunately, the Beverly Hills was caught up in a recent purge of female grass events from the upper ranks of the Graded Race System and now finds itself languishing as a Grade 3. This means we are to take the winner no more seriously than the horse who wins the Iowa Oaks, the Texas Mile, or the Boyd Gaming's Delta Jackpot Stakes. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

What the people who run the Graded Race System have never been able to concede is that even though participation of good horses begets a better grade, a lesser grade tends to discourage such participation, making it that much harder to ascend in status. In contrast to the Beverly Hills, the Gamely at Hollywood Park a month ago attracted Tuscan Evening, Forever Together, and Cat by the Tale. On Saturday, they'll all be dozing in the barn.

This does not bother Brice Blanc one bit. The veteran rider should have as good a chance as any aboard the Irish filly Turning Top, a daughter of Pivotal who captured the restricted Redondo Beach Stakes at a mile on the local grass June 5 in their first collaboration. Simon Callahan trains Turning Top for Michael Tabor.

"She's very genuine," Blanc said. "Very straightforward. She doesn't pull, so you can put her anywhere you want. And though she doesn't have a huge turn of foot, she's got a strong finish. I think the mile and a quarter will be great for her."

Blanc, 37, has fond memories of the Beverly Hills, having won it during the summer of 2000 with Happyanunoit, for Frankel and owner John Amerman, when the race was a Grade 1. Blanc was also aboard the New Zealand mare for victories in the First Lady, the Gamely, and the Matriarch.

What a difference a decade makes. Blanc, a native of Lyon, shifted his business to Kentucky, then returned to California last year in an attempt to reestablish himself on the West Coast. The going was slow for longer than he liked, but things have picked up lately, and Blanc finds himself in the top 10 at the current Hollywood meet with 15 wins through Wednesday.

Turning Top has won her last three races, working her way through conditions before arriving at the Beverly Hills. Blanc thinks she is particularly suited to the firm California turf courses with their sharp, very un-European turns.

"She really took to the turns, and I think that helps her a lot," Blanc said. "Most of the grass races in the U.S. are won around the turn. European horses who are not used to that have to learn how to accelerate on the turns, and sometimes it takes them awhile. Instead, they tend to make their move on the backside, and then take a breather on the turn. They come flying, but they come up short."

Because of his background, or his French accent, or maybe his success in races such as the Sunset, the Stars and Stripes, and the San Juan Capistrano, Blanc finds himself typecast as one of the better grass jockeys on the circuit. His record of success in such main-track events as the Del Mar Debutante, Gulfstream Park Handicap, Lane's End Stakes, and the Lady's Secret testify to the contrary. But he knows better than to fight the image.

"I really don't want to be cataloged that way," Blanc said. "But if people want to think the turf is my forte and that I'm good at it, that's a great honor. I ride the same way on any surface, and I can win races anywhere. I know I'm at a point in my career, though, that any time I get a chance to ride a filly like Turning Top, I'm grateful."