08/16/2009 11:00PM

Mabee the right spot for Visit


PHOENIX - Call me a sucker for a pretty face.

I latched onto Visit last fall when she was 3 after her superb try in the 1 1/4-mile Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, a trip that proved a bit too far. Another superb try when third to older females Cocoa Beach and Precious Kitten in the Grade 1 Matriarch at a mile confirmed my crush, and I entered 2009 prepared for a huge season following her around, cashing ticket after ticket, my admiration growing at each turn.

So much for best-laid plans. Visit is now winless in seven U.S. starts and inconsistency has been her hallmark instead of excellence.

Visit enters Sunday's Grade 1 John C. Mabee at Del Mar at 1 1/8 miles on the turf off what has to be considered a disappointing 2009, not only for her but for me and my wallet.

The problem has been relaxation. They've been trying to strike a balance - harness her energy so she has something left for the lane but not restrain her to the point they choke the effort right out of her.

After being the "wise-guy" turf filly coming into this season she's now pooh-poohed as a disappointment. There is some good news in that lack of respect for those of us who still believe, however, as it is directly reflected in her odds. After three straight failures as the chalk her odds have crept north, and she figures 9-2 or so in the Mabee what with Tuscan Evening around 5-2 range and Magical Fantasy 3-1.

Again, though, the key is getting her to settle. Brice Blanc, who has ridden her in her last two starts and has the call again, seems to have had some success. He got her to settle between horses before her strong rally in the Gamely fell just a neck short. In the mile Grade 2 Royal Heroine at Hollywood July 11, her most recent start, she had a wide post, settled well back, and had to go wide. She got going in the lane but it was too late. Despite success at about a mile in England last year it seems she may be best with a bit more ground than that in the U.S. Well, she gets it here in the Mabee as a ninth furlong gives her more ground.

Should Blanc be able to get her to settle again she can muster a charge in the lane. She's not some explosive filly a la Pure Clan but instead comes with a sustained run. The added ground and new surroundings may mean us believers will get a chance to "visit" the cashier after this Mabee renewal.

Peaking at the right time

Sunday's Grade 3 Longacres Mile at Emerald is always an enthralling mix of speed and stamina from various circuits, and this year is no different. Awesome Gem, who has been knocking heads with the best in the country on turf and synthetic, ships in from Southern California to take the well-deserved favorite's role after rallying strong for second in the Grade 1 Eddie Read on the grass at Del Mar last month. Still, Awesome Gem hasn't exactly been the most reliable horse and his style often puts a premium on pace and traffic. And surely you won't get a bargain at 2-1 or so.

Last year's 10-1 upset winner Wasserman is back, but he hasn't won in six starts this year, finishing behind no less than four of Sunday's rivals in a number of races this meet.

Assessment won the Bud Emerald at this trip June 21 and the Mt. Rainier going farther July 26. He's mired on the far outside, however, no bargain at all. From post 10 last year he rallied for fourth. This year he's got post 12, though he's a better animal now. Atta Boy Roy has posted two huge sprint wins this meet, setting track marks going six furlongs and 6 1/2 furlongs. A mile is a different kettle of fish, however, particularly with other speed signed up.

Sierra Sunset, from the Jeff Bonde barn, was on his way to a big 2008 as a 3-year-old, running second in the Grade 3 Southwest and then winning the Grade 2 Rebel in March. He was on the Kentucky Derby trail but injury sidelined him soon after. He wasn't seen for 15 months and when he did return it was with a dullish sprint at Hollywood June 6. There was nothing dull about his Alamedan at Pleasanton (dirt) July 5, however. The son of Bertrando went right out to the lead and just kept going, romping by five. His most immediate victim was multiple stakes winner Bold Chieftain. Sierra Sunset appears to be peaking, with the speed to be prominent from the start, proven dirt form and a touch of class.