02/04/2010 1:00AM

Pace key factor in Strub


NEW YORK - There is a terrific national stakes schedule on Saturday. Unfortunately, however, weather threatens to have a major impact on it.

Santa Anita has five stakes on its card Saturday, including the Grade 1, $250,000 Las Virgenes, the Grade 2, $200,000 Strub, and the Grade 2, $150,000 Robert B. Lewis. But a good amount of rain is forecasted for Southern California Friday into Saturday, and we are all well aware of the difficulty Santa Anita's Pro-Ride main track has had with moisture.

In the East, a snowstorm could wreak havoc with racing, including Aqueduct's $100,000 Whirlaway Stakes.

The good news is, rain could vacate south Florida by Saturday afternoon, which is important to Gulfstream Park. The two supporting events to that track's featured Grade 1, $500,000 Donn Handicap - the Grade 1, $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap and the Grade 3, $125,000 Suwanee River Stakes - are both scheduled to be run on turf.

Strub Stakes

The first two legs of the Strub series - the Malibu and San Fernando - were kind of weird, no-pace affairs. M One Rifle got away with very reasonable early fractions in the Malibu, a shocker in a 13-horse sprint at Santa Anita, and parlayed that into a front-running win. The pace in the San Fernando was downright slow, and the winner, Papa Clem, topped a two-speed exacta.

Unfortunately, neither M One Rifle nor Papa Clem is in this race to bet against, but pace is still a critical consideration. This time, the pace should be more honest, thanks to Diferentkindagreat and Smart Bid, opening the door here for those whose running styles might have been compromised last time.

Certainly, Misremembered didn't get the best of setups when the beaten favorite most recently in the Malibu, and he did well to rally to finish second. Now, Misremembered stretches back out to the distance at which he was a fine second in the Clark Handicap two starts back. He was narrowly beaten in that one after a costly wide trip. Misremembered projects to sit a perfect stalking trip from close range, and is absolutely the horse to beat. The problem with him is he offers zero betting value.

I'm intrigued with Rendezvous. Rendezvous was an even third in the San Fernando off a two-month layoff, laying closer up early than he usually does, possibly because he was fresh, but certainly because the front-runners were walking. But when Rendezvous gets more pace to run at, he can be very effective dropping back and making one big run. He showed that last summer when he upset the Del Mar Derby. Rendezvous should get more pace Saturday than he did in the San Fernando, he has a license to take a step forward second start off the layoff, and he will be a much more appealing price than Misremembered.

Suwannee River Stakes

This is an interesting betting race because the horses coming into this with the most accomplished recent form all have holes in them. Long Approach fits on her class lines, but she hasn't won in almost 2 1/2 years. Astrologie has also kept good company, but she has burned a lot of money while still looking for her first U.S. win, and this race might be too short for her anyway. Lady Shakespeare narrowly missed in the local springboard to this race, the Marshua's River, but you have to wonder how good that race really was when only two lengths separated the first seven finishers.

Lemonette might have the fewest holes in her form. But it should be noted that the highly regarded opponent she whipped at Tampa Bay last time out, Closeout, was disappointing that day, and came back with another disappointing effort when fourth in last Saturday's Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf.

With no real killers in this race, this looks like a good time to take a shot with an up-and-comer like Tottie. Tottie beat only entry-level allowance horses when she won her recent U.S. debut, but she did it stylishly with a big run from off the pace to inhale a runner-up who came back to win her next start with a 90 Beyer Figure. Tottie scored as the favorite, which is interesting considering her prior European form was modest at best. It's also worth noting that Tottie's European experience will serve her well should there be cut in the ground Saturday.

Super Stakes

This headliner at Tampa Bay marks the return of Musket Man, third in last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and winner of the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne and Tampa Bay Derby. Musket Man's class edge here is obvious, and his sharp workouts command respect. But at the same time, it's fair to question the wisdom of taking a short price on a horse coming off a nine-month absence, especially when that horse is pointing to more important, more lucrative races down the road.

War Fighter is the alternative play here. War Fighter finished strongest of all in his first start over the track when third most recently in the Pelican Stakes, a race won in front-running fashion by his entrymate. War Fighter goes it alone this time, and he can be much closer early, an important factor considering there isn't a lot of early speed in here. War Fighter's best races from a Beyer standpoint make him dangerous, especially if Musket Man doesn't fire his best shot.