03/22/2009 11:00PM

Midships deserves another chance

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NEW YORK - Although there are graded events to be found Saturday in Southern California, Florida, and New York, Turfway Park's astute placement of its signature stakes race, and its willingness to stack on other stakes events in support of that race, makes it the focal point of Saturday's stakes action.

Turfway's big race is, of course, the Grade 2, $500,000 Lane's End, a stepping-stone to the Kentucky Derby. But the Grade 3, $150,000 Bourbonette Oaks, the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes, the $50,000 Hansel Stakes, and the $50,000 Queen Stakes help make Turfway's Saturday card especially attractive.

The headliner at Santa Anita, the Grade 2, $200,000 San Luis Rey Handicap, and the feature at Gulfstream Park, the Grade 3, $150,000 Pan American Stakes, might have different names. They are, however, virtually identical events as both are 1 1/2 mile races on the grass. The main event at Aqueduct is the Grade 2, $150,000 Distaff Handicap.

San Luis Rey Handicap

Spring House and Artiste Royal will vie for favoritism here, as well they should. Spring House regained top form last time out when he won the San Luis Obispo at this 12-furlong distance over this turf course. Artiste Royal is also sharp, having won the 10-furlong San Marcos over the course two starts back, and then being beaten only two lengths most recently in the Kilroe Mile despite a less-than-smooth trip. Yet even though both are very logical, I see reasons to take a shot against them. For all he has accomplished in his career - he has won eight races and finished third or better in 24 of 38 career starts - Spring House has never won two races in a row. I don't want to take a short price on a horse attempting to accomplish something for the first time, particularly when he's a horse like Spring House who has already had many chances to win back-to-back starts.

As for Artiste Royal, he was reasonably effective at this 1 1/2-mile distance in his younger days. But now, at age 8, this distance might be outside his range. These days Artiste Royal seems most effective from 1 1/16 to 1 1/4 miles.

I like Midships. Yes, Midships was fourth at 3-5 in his only start this year, but that race wasn't as bad as it looks on paper. Midships had a right to need that outing in the first place as it was his first start in three months, and he was compromised when he tried to close into what turned out to be a very deliberate pace. You Got Me Rocking, who also runs in the San Luis Rey but who is suspect going this far, got loose on an easy lead and went all the way against Midships. While Midships only went from seventh to fourth in the final furlong while barely gaining any ground, he did go his last furlong in a good 11.57 seconds, which suggests he could have done much better with a more favorable pace setup.

Midships's first performance in the U.S. last November suggested that he could have success in races like this. That was in the Hollywood Derby, in which Midships produced a strong final quarter-mile of 23.43 seconds to finish a sharp third, beaten less than a length for second by Cowboy Cal, who came back to win the San Pasqual and Strub in his next two starts. This will be Midships's first start at 1 1/2 miles. But his good finishes suggest he should stretch out effectively, as does the fact that his dam, Interim, won the La Prevoyante and Waya going extended distances. And he should be a square price.

Rushaway Stakes

Fitzaslew's narrow miss in a quickly run allowance race last time out at Gulfstream kind of jumps off the page here. As a result, he will take considerable money, maybe more than he should. After all, this will be Fitzaslew's first start on a synthetic surface, and a dull try as the favorite in the Cradle Stakes last year in his one attempt on turf might not bode well for a successful surface switch. Given the connection between success on synthetic and success on turf, I, for one, try to avoid first-time synthetic horses unless they have demonstrated an affinity for grass, which Fitzaslew hasn't.

There are no such concerns with No Inflation, my pick. No Inflation recorded a solid maiden win last fall going two turns on Keeneland's Polytrack, and was much the best winning his only start this year, which came on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs. As that was his first start on three months, No Inflation has every license to take significant step forward Saturday, and he looks poised to do just that in view of his sharp recent work over the track.

Lane's End

Bittel Road wasn't far off such prominent Derby prospects as I Want Revenge, Pioneerof the Nile, and Papa Clem when fourth in the Robert Lewis at Santa Anita last time out. West Side Bernie won the Kentucky Cup Juvenile over the Turfway track last fall, and was a creditable third in the Holy Bull most recently after being compromised by pace and post. But even though both might be lengths better than the rest in here, I'm still taking Parade Clown against them.

Parade Clown was beaten as the 3-5 favorite last time out in the local prep for this event, the Battaglia Memorial. But he lost only because he got the "Dunkirk" trip. Like the highly regarded Dunkirk in his immensely impressive allowance win at Gulfstream, Parade Clown was caught ridiculously wide, some five to six wide, on the first turn of the Battaglia. And if that wasn't enough, he also moved prematurely into the far turn. Parade Clown gets a positive rider switch Saturday and is expected to run back to his big win two starts back in the WEBN Stakes, a performance that is competitive with Bittel Road and West Side Bernie's best.