07/19/2009 11:00PM

No tossouts in small Sunset

Email

LEXINGTON, Ky. - There are three graded stakes races scheduled on Sunday, two at Delaware Park and one at Hollywood Park.

There are just four horses to sort through in the Grade 2, $150,000 Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park. While the winner seems most likely to be one of the two favorites in this 1 1/2-mile turf race, an argument can be made for all four of the horses to be competitive.

Spring House has consistently faced the classiest company while running in 16 consecutive graded or group stakes races dating all the way back to his third-place finish in the 2007 Sunset. His recent form is strong as he is coming off a victory in the Grade 3 Golden Gate Fields Turf Stakes on May 30. He shows a string of good works since that race, and will rate the advantage over this field if he matches that form Sunday.

Obrigado looms as the primary threat. He rallied from 10 lengths off the pace to win the Grade 3 Round Table at Hollywood on June 13. He was pulling away impressively at the end of that 1 3/4-mile turf race, and won by 3 1/4 lengths. He finished sixth behind Spring House at Golden Gate two races ago, but he didn't run his race that day and figures to be more of a threat in the rematch.

Porfido was no match for Obrigado while finishing 3 1/4 lengths behind him in second in the Round Table. But if you're willing to rate him on his best form from last year, his third-place finishes in the Sunset, Round Table, and San Juan Capistrano and his second-place finish in the San Luis Rey would make him a factor.

Black Astor appears to be a cut below the others in class. He comes into this race with four consecutive losses, and has tackled graded stakes company only once, in a fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 San Marcos at Santa Anita in January in his most recent start. Nevertheless, an argument can still be made for him. His recent Beyer Speed Figures suggest that he might be able to be competitive with this group. If that's true, he will have a clear pace advantage as the only natural front-runner in this field. If he's able to relax through slow fractions he will have a chance.

If the horses-for-courses angle is a big part of your handicapping, the Grade 3 Barbaro at Delaware might drive you crazy. Ten of these 12 3-year-olds have finished either first or second in all of their races on the dirt at Delaware. And none of them has ever finished worse than third on that track. As a group they have won 12 of 24 local starts, with 10 seconds and 2 third-place finishes. The two other horses haven't raced at Delaware.

There are no graded stakes winners in this field, and only four stakes winners. Larry Jones trains two of the prime contenders. It Happened Again defeated older horses, and stablemate Doc's Friend, last time in a third-level optional $65,000 claiming race. Although he has been in the rear half of the field early in most of his recent races, It Happened Again is usually within striking position, and he will find plenty of speed in this field to flatter his late kick.

Doc's Friend was on a roll with consecutive wins against older allowance and $40,000 optional claiming company prior to his second-place finish behind It Happened Again. He deserves consideration in the rematch, but he will probably have to work harder up front with more pace pressure Sunday, so he might be vulnerable again late.

Our Edge defeated maiden specials at Delaware, then repeated against stakes company in the Coronado's Quest. He is an interesting possibility, but his front-running style might hinder him.

Sumo finished second as a 33-1 longshot behind General Quarters in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis, then finished next-to-last in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby. A typical effort would probably leave him off the board in this race, but a return to top form would give him a chance for an upset.

Pitched Perfectly finished fifth in the Grade 2 Lexington at Keeneland two races ago, and Bunker Hill just finished a distant second behind Big Drama at Charles Town. They're both capable of contending.

The fillies and mares in the $1 million, Grade 2 Delaware Handicap are more accomplished, but they also have some questions to answer.

Unbridled Belle finished among the top three in seven of her last 11 graded stakes races. The concern is that she finished next-to-last in her second and third most recent races. She rebounded with an 11-length victory in the Grade 3 Obeah at Delaware last time, but can that easy win on a sloppy track be taken at face value?

Acoma finished among the first three in seven of her eight previous graded stakes races, but it's a concern that she hasn't earned a triple-digit Beyer from 11 career starts.

Swift Temper finished in the top three in six of her seven graded stakes starts, but she beat just one opponent and earned a 70 Beyer in her lone previous race on this track, which is tied with one other race for the lowest Beyer showing among her last 12 starts. She's in better form now than she was then, but will that translate into a better performance in her return to this track?

Icon Project cruised by 13 1/4 lengths in the mud at Belmont in the Grade 3 New York in her first race on a surface other than turf. If she really that much better on the main track than she is on turf, or did she simply love the muddy surface?

I will go with Unbridled Belle based on her strong form last year, and on her affinity for Delaware with five wins, a second, and a third-place finish from seven local starts.