02/07/2008 1:00AM

Old-timer looks ready to rumble


NEW YORK - There is a lot of major stakes racing on tap Saturday at Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park. At Santa Anita, five stakes are on the card, including the Grade 1 Santa Monica, the Grade 2 Strub, and the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis. At Gulfstream, the Grade 1 Donn Handicap heads a stakes doubleheader.

Thunder Road Handicap

This is the only stakes Saturday at Santa Anita that is not graded, but with a full and intriguing field, it just might be the best betting race of the bunch. The key to this race is Awesome Gem, who narrowly missed in two Grade 1 events last year on synthetic tracks, and who will be making his first appearance since finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Classic. The company Awesome Gem kept last year is only a part of the reason why he is the key to this race, however. He has the option of returning instead in Sunday's feature at Santa Anita, the San Antonio Handicap. Either way, Awesome Gem will be merely prepping for his real goal, next month's Santa Anita Handicap, which means he might be vulnerable. For selfish reasons, I hope he runs in this race, because it will help boost the odds of the horse I'm going with, Siren Lure.

There was a time when going even only a mile would have been a bit too far for Siren Lure. But in his advanced years - he's 7 now - Siren Lure seems to have changed. He went two turns in his last two starts, and he ran well both times. He was second to the classy Buzzards Bay, and then third in the Forty Niner Stakes at Golden Gate behind Now Victory and McCann's Mojave. Those two efforts suggest Siren Lure is cycling back to top form, an important point considering he has strong back class, having won Grade 1, Grade 2, and Grade 3 sprint stakes in 2006. Siren Lure also has run well over this turf course, and he is being reunited with jockey Alex Solis, for whom he has always done his best running.

WEBN Stakes

This full field includes a couple of stakes winners over Turfway's Polytrack, Texas Fever and U.S. Cavalry. But though this may be his racing debut over a synthetic surface, it is Your Round who looks like the strong play.

Your Round is one of those horses that the more you look at his past performances, the more things you find to like about him. For one, he kept good company last year. In his most recent outing, he was a solid third to Monba, who is a wiseguy Kentucky Derby prospect off of the way he closed ground to be fourth in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity. Earlier, Your Round was third to the highly regarded Prussian in the Summer Stakes, and he was beaten by less than five lengths in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Also, Your Round earned Beyer Speed Figures of 80 and higher three times last year at 2, and he should be able to do better now that he is more physically mature. His main opponents, meanwhile, have only recently been able to crack the 80 Beyer Figure plateau. His trainer has excellent numbers with horses off the kind of layoff Your Round is returning from.

Whirlaway Stakes

Roman Emperor was, on first impression, flat when he ran third as the favorite in the Count Fleet Stakes last time out. But in retrospect, his effort was better than it appeared, and he is taken to make amends.

Roman Emperor, favored in the Count Fleet off two blowout wins at Philadelphia Park, had a couple of things going against him. First, as one who comes from off the pace, he was compromised by a speed-favoring inner track. Secondly, the pace was slow, which also muted his late kick. He should get more honest fractions to shoot at this time.