03/15/2010 12:00AM

Motovato gets better scenario


NEW YORK - Saturday is the biggest non-Breeders' Cup and Triple Crown race day in years as two of the finest females in Thoroughbred racing history, and the two protagonists in last year's Horse of the Year battle, begin their 2010 campaigns with an eye toward their meeting in next month's Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park. Rachel Alexandra, who won the 2009 Horse of the Year vote and was also champion 3-year-old filly, goes in the $200,000 New Orleans Ladies Stakes at Fair Grounds. Zenyatta, who again won the older female title last year, will make her first start since her victory over males in the Breeders' Cup Classic in the Grade 1, $250,000 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita, in which she will carry top weight of 127 pounds.

As if that wasn't enough, there are also three important Kentucky Derby preps on Saturday. The Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel at Oaklawn deserves top billing because it will be where Lookin At Lucky, last year's champion 2-year-old male, not only makes his 3-year-old debut, but also makes his first start on dirt and with blinkers. However, the Grade 2, $150,000 San Felipe at Santa Anita and the Grade 3, $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs also came up solid races.

You almost have to feel sorry for the feature at Gulfstream, the Gulfstream Park Handicap. Despite its Grade 2 status and $300,000 purse, it might well get overshadowed on this huge day of racing.

Gulfstream Park Handicap

Although this event won't get the attention of some other stakes on Saturday, it is a better betting race than most because it has a big field and a handful of legitimate contenders.

All I know is I won't be standing with This Ones for Phil, Cool Coal Man, or Harlem Rocker, even though I concede I wouldn't be shocked if any of them won. This Ones for Phil won one of the most entertaining races of the year last time out when he prevailed in the Sunshine Millions Sprint. But even though he has run the best races of his life on this track, This Ones for Phil seems to want races shorter than this one-turn mile.

Cool Coal Man also loves this track. But these days, I think he's out of his element in graded stakes company, as evidenced by his inability to hold on in last year's Excelsior Handicap despite controlling a very slow pace. And Harlem Rocker, who has had just one start in the last four months, and was away a year before that, has too many gaps on his record for my liking.

I like Motovato, who was tons the best when third, beaten just a length, in the Gulfstream Sprint Championship most recently. Motovato spotted that field four to five lengths when he broke poorly, and was four wide around the far turn. On top of that, the pace in that race was moderate, and not really flattering to anyone like Motovato, who was trying to come from far back. Yet despite all of that, Motovato finished strongly. The added distance Motovato gets Saturday can help him, as could an early pace that projects to be more vigorous than it was in the Gulfstream Sprint Championship.

I also respect Supreme Summit here. Three starts back, Supreme Summit was last of 13 turning for home in the Grade 1 Malibu, but he finished fast to be close to runner-up Misremembered, who won last week's Santa Anita Handicap with a 104 Beyer, and third finisher Papa Clem, who won the San Fernando in his next start with a 97 Beyer. Supreme Summit didn't run as well when fourth in the subsequent Palos Verdes, but he was going well at the finish when an improved third last time out in the San Carlos.

San Felipe Stakes

With Lookin At Lucky having vacated Santa Anita for Oaklawn (where he should have his hands full in Saturday's Rebel with Dublin), this race will establish leadership of Southern California's Derby division. Certainly, Caracortado, Dave in Dixie, and American Lion, the one-two-three finishers in last month's Robert B. Lewis, are capable of assuming a leadership role. That could be particularly true of Dave in Dixie, who could take a big step forward since his rallying second in the Lewis was his first start in four months. But I prefer Dave in Dixie's barnmate in here, Sidney's Candy.

Sidney's Candy attempts two turns for the first time Saturday, but he does so off an improved and strong score in the San Vicente, his first truly representative performance since last August. That means Sidney's Candy is also eligible to take a big step forward, and there is no question he is quick enough to control the pace from the start.

Tampa Bay Derby

Super Saver is trying to do what barn mate Rule did in last month's Sam Davis, which is make his first start of the year a winning one at Tampa Bay Downs. But while it would be no surprise if Super Saver was successful - his most recent victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes was a solid effort - I'm reluctant to take him as the favorite. I find Schoolyard Dreams an appealing alternative.

Schoolyard Dreams showed potential last year when he recorded his maiden win over Tempted to Tapit, runner- up in last month's Risen Star Stakes, and he turned in his best race to date with blinkers on most recently when second in the Davis. Schoolyard Dreams was an aggressive part of the pace and was put into an all-out drive on the far turn, yet still managed to hold the place. A pair of bullet workouts since suggests Schoolyard Dreams maintains his sharp form.