Updated on 09/16/2011 9:22AM

Oak Tree stakes ripe for upsets


ARCADIA, Calif. - Although graded stakes frequently offer low-odds standouts and limited wagering opportunity, bettors might approach the four stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita with expectations of a potential score. Overlays are plentiful; underlays are dubious. It's a good card on which to gamble.

The favorites in the Norfolk Stakes for 2-year-olds and the Ancient Title for sprinters are decidedly vulnerable. The chalk in the Oak Tree Mile on turf could also be a bet-against, but not for another three weeks. Put the world's top filly-mare turf runners in the same race - the Yellow Ribbon - and Saturday's card is rife with possibility. A closer look is in order, starting with the best gamble on the card.

Norfolk Stakes

The strength of the West Coast 2-year-old division has been in Bob Baffert's barn all season, and his colts Kafwain and Bull Market will attract much of the Norfolk wagering. Although Best Pal winner Kafwain is the most accomplished of the seven entrants, his progress has stalled.

In fact, Kafwain is running the same as he was three months ago. His pace and speed figures are static, and his pedigree does not suggest improvement around two turns. Make no mistake - Kafwain might win the Norfolk. He is seasoned, and consistent. But he has not developed, and can only win the Norfolk if his lightly raced rivals do not improve. The gamble is that they will.

Bull Market is fast. No starter in the Norfolk has earned higher pace or speed figures than Bull Market did in his debut at Del Mar. Perhaps he will race gate to wire, but it is more likely that Bull Market and northern California shipper Mr. Technique will only serve as targets for potential upsetter Royal Siphon.

There is no doubt 2-year-old maiden sprint winners can stretch out and win graded stakes. Last October, a colt by Siphon - Siphonic - did exactly that in the Breeders Futurity at Keeneland. The 2002 version is Royal Siphon, whose effortless six-length debut win at Fairplex Park was validated when the filly he beat, No Love Song, returned to win.

Royal Siphon was ready to run at Del Mar, but got sick. Trainer Cliff Sise regrouped, and began training the colt with one eye on Fairplex, another on Oak Tree. Royal Siphon's presence in the Norfolk is not an afterthought; it always was the goal. Royal Siphon rates kindly in workouts, he gives every indication he wants to run long, and he should fall into a perfect trip laying third behind the speed.

Fairplex maiden races produced two of the last six Norfolk winners (Free House in 1996, Buck Trout in 1998). Royal Siphon is poised to make it three. At odds of 6-1 or higher, Royal Siphon might be the best gamble on the program. The other starters? Del Mar maiden winner Listen Indy is improving, as is Gateway to Glory winner Manhattan Express. Man Among Men's maiden win was among the most spectacular of the Del Mar meet, but it came on turf.

Ancient Title Handicap

Swept Overboard is the best horse in the race. But he hasn't raced since May, and trainer Craig Dollase is using the Ancient Title only as a prep for the Breeders' Cup Sprint. This is not to say Swept Overboard cannot win the Ancient Title. He can.

However, the "gray ghost" is not fully cranked, nor should he be. Swept Overboard will lay back, and make a run. If he gets there, he gets there. If he doesn't, he goes to Arlington anyway. The primary intent of the Ancient Title is exercise. Swept Overboard does not have to win, nor does he have to be bet.

The fastest horse to the quarter pole is Rio Oro, who returned from an extended layoff with a huge second-place finish in a fast Del Mar stakes. Rio Oro is the fastest front-runner in the field. Crafty C.T. does not possess sub-44 second speed; Explicit is less effective at Santa Anita, and not quick as Rio Oro. Same with the mare Kalookan Queen. That leaves Rio Oro the one to catch at six furlongs. He's in light, on the lead, and a gamble at 4-1 or higher.

Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile

The course record for one mile (1:31.89) may be in jeopardy when Congaree makes the lead on a lightning-fast turf course - maiden winner Vronsky won in 1:34.37 opening day. Congaree should go gate to wire Saturday against a weak field. His style is not conducive to grass racing, however. Congaree runs fast early, and dies home. The style works on dirt, and it should work Saturday on a souped-up course.

But when Congaree gets to Chicago for the BC Mile, he faces a different situation. Instead of an ordinary field, Congaree will meet world-class turf runners who can kick. For now, Congaree is the fastest horse in the Oak Tree Mile. His depressed odds prevent him from being a solid wager, and the likelihood he will win prevents him from being a bet-against. That will change in three weeks.

Yellow Ribbon Stakes

Golden Apples or Banks Hill? It's a two-horse race, no knocks on either filly. The edge goes to Golden Apples, because she is home. Banks Hill shipped to New York, got rained out, and had to adjust plans to ship to California. It might make no difference, but it is rarely a positive when plans are revised to such a degree a transcontinental ship is necessary.

Can Voodoo Dancer stay 1 1/4 miles? If she can, it will be on this turf course, which begins downhill. It's a "cheater's" 1 1/4 miles. The third choice in a two-horse race, Voodoo Dancer appears to be slightly outclassed by Golden Apples and Banks Hill, but Voodoo Dancer has been nothing short of sensational in previous trips west. There is no advantage wagering on, or against, anyone. The Yellow Ribbon is a good race to watch, with no interest other than the sheer sport of it.