07/13/2009 11:00PM

Parading all set for Gold Cup win

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NEW YORK - It's Hollywood Gold Cup Day, and that track's Grade 1, $700,000 signature race has a nice supporting event in the Grade 2, $250,000 Royal Heroine Mile (formerly the CashCall Mile). And at Calder, it's Summit of Speed Day, with the Grade 1 Princess Rooney Handicap and the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap, each worth $350,000, heading a card that also includes the Grade 2 Carry Back and Grade 3 Azalea Stakes, worth $200,000 each.

In Chicago, it's Arlington Million Preview Day, with the Grade 2, $300,000 American Derby, the Grade 3, $200,000 Modesty Handicap, and the Grade 3, $200,000 Arlington Handicap operating as local preps for next month's Secretariat, Beverly D., and Arlington Million. And the headliner at Belmont Park, the Grade 1, $500,000 Man o' War Stakes, is a beauty.

Hollywood Gold Cup

There's really no way to sugarcoat it. With the exception of Einstein, this year's handicap division is very weak. And the problem seems to be particularly severe in Southern California, where the most recent stakes race for this group, the Grade 2 Californian, was won in a 14-1 upset by Informed, who at this time last year had just won a nonwinners-of-two $25,000 claimer.

That's why it makes sense that the filly Life Is Sweet, who is the second-best female in her own barn to the undefeated champion Zenyatta, would take a shot in here. Life Is Sweet was second to none other than Zenyatta last time out in the Milady Handicap, and she won three straight stakes at Santa Anita before that. But the horses Life Is Sweet finished in front of in the Milady, and during her stakes spree earlier in the year, are no great shakes, either. So, Life Is Sweet threatens to be an underlay given her actual chances of winning. And that, for me, makes her a play-against.

Given the current condition of the California handicap division, out-of-state shippers would automatically get a second and third look. And that's why it's surprising there are only two of them in here. I'm willing to try and beat one of them, Bullsbay. Bullsbay's win in the Alysheba was absolutely bias-aided, as he rode the crest of a gold rail. I also don't like that he finished behind Einstein in the Stephen Foster last time out, considering the world of trouble Einstein had.

The other out-of-state shipper, Parading, is the pick.

After being absent 11 months, Parading resumed his career this year in fine fashion. His win last time out in the Dixie Stakes on the turf on the Preakness undercard was a solid performance. But it was his score two starts back, in the Ben Ali at Keeneland, that was the real eye-opener. In what was his first encounter with a synthetic track, Parading crushed his field in probably the best performance of his career. He was visually impressive in the Ben Ali and earned a career-best Beyer Figure of 103 - strongly suggesting Parading might have found his forte in synthetic track racing. I also like the trip Parading can fall into Saturday, getting first run at a pace carved out by Rail Trip, Tres Borrachos, and Mast Track.

Man o' War Stakes

The field this race attracted is proof that the male turf division is much stronger than the handicap division. Off Grade 1 wins in his last two starts, Gio Ponti is right there with Einstein at the top of this division. On his day, Grand Couturier is at least as good as Gio Ponti, as evidenced by his consecutive Grade 1 wins last year in the Sword Dancer and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. And Midships has been the most accomplished turf performer in California this year, having won three straight graded stakes.

But I see reasons to bet against all of them. Even though Gio Ponti won the 10-furlong Manhattan Handicap on the Belmont Stakes undercard, his come-home time was not fast - even allowing for the off footing - and I sense he will find the 11 furlongs beyond his scope. I would really fear Grand Couturier if I thought he was set for his best, but I think he needs one more outing to achieve that. And I'm not crazy about the horses Midships has been beating.

I guess I'm looking for the Phipps Stable and trainer Shug McGaughey to have a big day Saturday, because Parading is theirs, and I like their Dancing Forever in this spot.

Dancing Forever had a very useful prep in his seasonal bow and now stretches out to a much more suitable distance. He won last year's Manhattan over this course, and he finished better than any American horse when third in the Breeders' Cup Turf last fall.

Arlington Handicap

I like Just as Well in this spot, because I believe he's getting the opportunity to do what he has been wanting to do, which is go long.

Just as Well's two best races this year, by a long way, were the only two chances he had to race as far as 1 1/8 miles. Last time out, Just as Well was able to mount a strong late rally despite moderate early fractions to be a gaining second to Parading in the Dixie. In his second start this year, the nine-furlong Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, Just as Well also finished strongly to be beaten less than a length by the classy Kip Deville. According to DRF's Formulator Web, Just as Well went his final furlong in that race in 11.22 seconds. A horse who can finish that quickly at nine furlongs should find the 10 furlongs of this race very much to his liking.