02/03/2009 12:00AM

One turf favorite fine, but another is shaky

Email

LEXINGTON, Ky. - If you're playing the races on Sunday you will want to take a look at the two graded stakes races being run on the grass at Gulfstream.

The action begins with the 1 1/8-mile Grade 3 Suwannee River.

Callwood Dancer earned higher Beyer Speed Figures in most of her recent races than her opponents did in theirs, while battling classier graded stakes competition. That form should make her hard to deny in this modest field. I will key her on top in the exacta over Waquoit's Love and Flibberjibit.

Waquoit's Love finished fifth, just 2 3/4 lengths behind Callwood Dancer, in the Grade 3 My Charmer at Calder. It probably isn't a coincidence that two of her three wins since January 2008 came from her three starts on Gulfstream's turf course. Her tactical foot makes a good trip likely.

Flibberjibit has won six of her last eight races. She moved to the Marty Wolfson barn two races ago. She finished third on the turf at Gulfstream in an allowance race on Jan. 4, then looked good pulling away from a similar field in a 3 1/4-length score three weeks later. She should be within easy striking position turning for home.

The Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, also at 1 1/8 miles, is the main event.

Kip Deville is the favorite, and he brings an impressive resume to the table. He owns 11 wins from 26 career starts. He has earned five graded stakes victories, including three Grade 1's, from his last 12 races. Kip Deville won the 2007 Breeders' Cup Mile, then finished second behind Goldikova in that same race in October.

If I'm betting on a heavy favorite, I prefer they come into their race in top form, without any serious questions to answer. But that isn't the case with Kip Deville. The first issue is that he has lost three straight races. I'm willing to look past his ninth-place finish last time in the Hong Kong Mile, because he had to travel a long way to get there and reportedly didn't handle the turns well. Although I don't like his fifth-place finish as the 1-2 favorite three races ago in the Woodbine Mile, Kip Deville redeemed himself when he ran well against the immensely talented Goldikova in his next start. I will give him a pass on the losing streak.

The next issue is that Kip Deville specializes in one-mile races. He ran farther than a mile in two of his last 12 races, and lost both times. But one of those races was 1 1/8 miles on a synthetic surface, which he apparently disliked. The other race was the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Oceanport, which was his return from a two-month break. That race served as a prep that helped to set him up for his winning performance in the Breeders' Cup Mile two races later, so I can't hold his third-place finish against him.

A check of the nine one-mile races showing among his last 12 at the distance (excluding the Hong Kong Mile) shows that Kip Deville gained ground or increased his lead during the last furlong of those races six times, maintained the same lead margin once, and lost ground just twice. Although he made only mild late gains in many of those races, the important point is that he wasn't fading most of the time, so I will give Kip Deville a pass on the distance question.

The last concern about Kip Deville is that he had a long trip back from Hong Kong following his race there just seven weeks ago, and it remains to be seen how much energy the trip took out of him. I can't justify giving a low-odds favorite the benefit of the doubt three times, so this is where Kip Deville and I will part company.

I like the chances of Red Rocks, who won the 2006 Breeders' Cup Turf and defeated Curlin in the Grade 1 Man o' War last year. He wasn't at his best when he finished 10th in the Breeders' Cup Turf last year, which came in his return from a 3 1/2-month break. With more than three months to regroup, and with a nice work tab, he seems capable of a rebound to top form, which would make him the horse to beat. While cutting back from 1 1/2 miles to 1 1/8 miles is not ideal, he has shown enough tactical speed to suggest that he should be able to reach striking position early enough to give him every chance to win this race.

Court Vision ended his 3-year-old campaign with wins in the Grade 2 Jamaica Handicap and the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby. He will have to improve to win this race, but he can participate in a minor exotic slot, and possibly in the exacta if Red Rocks or Kip Deville regresses.