07/08/2007 11:00PM

No really, Pletcher pair live


Sit down and hold on to the edge of your chairs for this one, folks: Todd Pletcher will be a major player in a stakes race.

Yes, yes, it does seem far-fetched. Pletcher only has been winning a stakes race about every 14 minutes this summer. But it's true. Both Safari Queen, who starts in the $300,000 Robert G. Dick Memorial, and Cotton Blossom, who goes two races later in the $500,000 Delaware Oaks, look like prime players in their respective spots on Saturday at Delaware Park.

Actually, the real surprise is that Pletcher had no entrant for the day's other stakes, the $100,000 R.R.M. Carpenter, for older horses at 1 1/16 miles on dirt.

The Carpenter did draw a decent field that includes 2006 Gotham Stakes winner Like Now, whose current form takes a backseat to last-start winners Barcola and Awfully Smart. Better Than Bonds, beaten as the favorite by Barcola last out at Delaware, also will be in the mix.

Pletcher, you might have noticed, is loaded in the 3-year-old filly division. Panty Raid won the Grade 1 American Oaks last weekend at Hollywood; two weekends ago, Octave captured the Grade 1 Mother Goose at Belmont; and then there is this other somewhat obscure filly - Rags to Riches. With Rags to Riches slated next week for the Coaching Club American Oaks, Pletcher sends Cotton Blossom to Delaware, and she is not bad either. A troubled ninth in the Kentucky Oaks, Cotton Blossom rebounded to win the Grade 1 Acorn June 9 at Belmont, beating Dream Rush, who came back to win the Grade 1 Prioress easily on Saturday in New York.

But the local Oaks is no one-horse race. Tough Tiz's Sis ships in from California for Bob Baffert. High Heels beat Cotton Blossom this past spring. Locals Moon Catcher and Winning Point are on top of their game at the moment. Bear Now has been crushing stakes rivals on the Woodbine Polytrack.

Pletcher won the 2006 Dick with Honey Ryder, but she started last weekend in the United Nations, and Pletcher has Safari Queen for this year's edition. Safari Queen was out-finished by Honey Ryder in her most recent race, the May 26 Sheepshead Bay, but she won two Grade 3s earlier in the spring, and over the winter beat a main rival in Saturday's race, the Christophe Clement-trained Royal Highness. Royal Highness, however, turned the tables on Safari Queen in The Very One Handicap at Gulfstream on Feb. 26 - the last time she raced.