06/21/2001 11:00PM

Michaels: Weekend stakes forecast


Fillies and mares take center stage this weekend with the biggest races from the East, West, and Midwest all featuring the distaff division.

The weekend's two Grade 1 events, the Hempstead Handicap at Belmont on the dirt, and the Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood on turf, could have roles in determining the top horses in both the female dirt and turf divisions. However, both races are rather difficult to bet, leaving the Grade 3 Locust Grove at Churchill Downs as this week's prime wagering opportunity for stakes race players.

The Hempstead will mark the first start of the year for former 1999 female champion Beautiful Pleasure. Now a 6-year-old, Beautiful Pleasure could shake loose on the lead and looks like much the best in the race. Even if Beautiful Pleasure flops in her return from a layoff, Darling My Darling, the other half of the John Ward-trained entry, should be the one who picks up the pieces.

The Beautiful Pleasure - Darling My Darling entry figures to be 2-5.

The Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood Park, a Grade 1 filly and mare turf race, looks like a toss-up between Astra, who won this race in 1999, and Happyanunoit, who won this race last year. The low-odds duo seems to be head-and-shoulders above the other four horses in the race, but unless you have a strong feeling one way or the other, the race looks unplayable. To me, the race looks like a complete toss-up.


Belmont Park, 1 1/16 miles, $250,000, Grade 1

1) 1a- Beautiful Pleasure

2) 1 - Darling My Darling

3) 7 - Jostle


Hollywood Park, 1 1/16 miles turf, $250,000, Grade 1

1) Happyanunoit

2) Astra

3) High Walden

With perhaps little or no money to be made in either the Hempstead or Beverly Hills, the weekend's "best bet" looks like the Locust Grove which pits Grade 1 winner Colstar against a large and evenly-matched field.


Churchill Downs, 1 1/8 miles turf, $150,000, Grade 3

1) 1- Colstar

2) 7- Clearly A Queen

3) 11-Megans Bluff

In the weekend's most contentious graded stake, Colstar figures to be a lukewarm favorite in a field where several horses should take money, but still looks difficult to ignore in this 11-horse field.

Colstar won this race last year by more than three lengths for what was her fourth straight victory at the time. Admittedly, Colstar is not yet in the kind of form this year that she was in last year when she won here. However, she still looms as a standout against this field based on her high Beyer figures and her 2000 form which included a win in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl over a field including Snow Polina and Happyanunoit.

Colstar finished a disappointing fifth last time out in the Gallorette at Pimlico when she got caught trying to rally from behind in a paceless race. She should get a much better pace to close behind in this race, and should have no trouble winning with an effort anywhere close to the one she turned-in last year in her victory here.

The horse with the best chance to knock off Colstar at a decent price is Clearly A Queen. She could be an overlay based on her loss in an ungraded Calder stake last time out. In that race she flattened out to third after making a big middle move to get into the thick of the race despite trouble on the turn.

Clearly A Queen seemed ready to move up into the upper echelon of Eastern turf distaffers back at the Hialeah meet when she ran back-to-back Beyers in the 100s at this distance. In those two races, she was beaten by only one horse, and that was division leader Perfect Sting.

Megans Bluff owns a perfect 3-for-3 record on turf at Churchill Downs, and should also be a factor in this race from post 11. She comes out of a win in the Mint Julip Handicap here last month. That was her four career graded stakes win, but she'll still need to run a career best to beat Colstar if that rival shows up with her "A" race.

Other horses who figure to take money in the Locust Grove include Gino's Spirits, Histoire Sainte, and Solvig. However, Histoire Sainte seems just a bit overmatched against graded competition, Solvig runs best on soft turf, and Gino's Spirits has been much better at shorter distances.

Move up Solvig a peg or two if the grass course is labeled anything other than firm.


Take a shot at some of the exotics in the Locust Grove. If the turf comes up firm, box #1 Colstar, #7 Clearly A Queen, and #11 Megans Bluff in both exactas and trifectas. If the turf is good, soft, or yielding, key #1 Colstar over Clearly A Queen, Megans Bluff, and #5 Solvig and play a Colstar - Solvig exacta box.

Firm turf play ($90):

$10 exacta box 1-7-11 = $60

$5 trifecta box 1-7-11 = $30

Good/soft/yielding play ($100):

$10 trifecta key 1 / 5-7-11 / 5-7-11 = $60

$20 exacta box 1-5 = $40