02/03/2009 12:00AM

No one may catch Danger to Society


NEW YORK - The first Grade 1 races of 2009 will be run Saturday at precisely the venues you would think they would be run. The Grade 1, $500,000 Donn Handicap is the main event at Gulfstream Park on a card that also includes the Grade 3, $150,000 Holy Bull Stakes for 3-year-olds with some lofty aspirations. The Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Monica Handicap at Santa Anita attracted Ventura, winner of the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Last year's champion female sprinter Indian Blessing was also entered, but trainer Bob Baffert said he intends to scratch her.

Holy Bull Stakes

The two most accomplished horses in this race are Beethoven, who will be making his first start since his win in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November and is just a head away from having won four straight, and West Side Bernie, the Kentucky Cup Juvenile winner who was a sharp second in the Delta Jackpot in his last appearance. Here's hoping their accomplishments lead to strong support at the windows, because neither has to win this 1 1/8-mile race.

It's no secret that with a short run to the first turn outside post positions in 1 1/8-mile races at Gulfstream - posts that Beethoven and West Side Bernie must deal with Saturday - are a distinct disadvantage. This point is underscored by the fact that Big Brown, who won last year's Florida Derby, remains the only horse to win from post 12 going nine furlongs since the main track at Gulfstream was reconfigured six years ago. Of course, other factors can come into play that help make outside posts going 1 1/8 miles such a disadvantage. For a recent example, the 12-hole alone certainly didn't beat Delightful Kiss in last Saturday's nine-furlong Sunshine Millions Classic, because that deep closer found the rail before the field even hit the first turn. He just didn't run well.

In the case of West Side Bernie and Beethoven, there are other factors that make their respective posts of 10 and 11 especially problematic. There isn't a lot of early speed in this race. If there were, one could expect the field to string out relatively quickly, affording closers like Beethoven and West Side Bernie the chance to drop back, drop in, and save some ground around the first turn. But there isn't much speed, so it's easy to envision the field still being fairly bunched up as they go around the first turn, which means West Side Bernie and Beethoven have an excellent chance at getting caught wide. And even if they are the most accomplished horses in this race going in, neither has such a large enough margin for error over some others in here that they could concede significant ground loss on the first turn and still win.

Danger to Society is the obvious alternative. He was much the best winning at the distance over the track early this month, and ran fast enough Beyer Figure-wise to be competitive in this spot. Most importantly, Danger to Society showed the kind of positional speed in that first stretch-out attempt to put him in perfect position from the outset here as the only others who might be capable of going for the lead - Bear's Racket and Idol Maker - might actually be more effective rating. On top of it all, Danger to Society has trainer Ken McPeek in his corner. Right now, McPeek is so hot that it's his world and we're just living in it.

Donn Handicap

The bad post and shortage of early speed themes prominent in the Holy Bull are also prevalent in this race. Einstein, who ran so well winning the Clark Handicap last time out, is compromised by having to break from the outside. Arson Squad, who is clearly thrilled to be back racing on dirt, as evidenced by his win in the Meadowlands Cup and his close fourth despite trouble in the Cigar Mile in his last two starts, doesn't figure to get the hot pace that helped set up his strong finishes in those races.

Albertus Maximus is a solid play here. Albertus Maximus finally realized his long-standing potential last fall with a win in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. And while Albertus Maximus employed a deep closing style in that win and in two sharp efforts before that, he is not locked into running that way. Those were fast paced routes, but when the fractions are moderate, as is expected to be the case here, Albertus Maximus can be involved from the start. He also handles dirt, as that is what he got his maiden win on at Santa Anita in March 2007.

WEBN Stakes

Parade Clown couldn't get close enough to Music City to even eat his Polytrack when a soundly beaten second last time out in a prep for this feature at Turfway Park. Why am I expecting a turnaround and Parade Clown to win this race? Because the pace setup this time is completely different, and in Parade Clown's favor.

When Music City thrashed Parade Clown most recently, Music City was stretching out off a relatively fast maiden win sprinting and was able to open up a huge early lead through very easy fractions. It was no wonder he won in a romp. But Music City doesn't figure to be as lucky this time. Azicharmyou and Sirius Black are both stretching out after having shown good sprint speed, and if they don't give Music City a serious challenge for the lead, they will keep him honest, at least. Parade Clown is certainly good enough to capitalize on such a scenario, judging from the fact that in his strong off-the-pace maiden win two starts back - his first start with blinkers - he earned the best Beyer in this field.