07/15/2009 11:00PM

Plenty of positives for Hold Me Back

Email

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - One thing is quickly apparent in handicapping Saturday's Grade 2, $750,000 Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs - the race is loaded with speed, particularly for a 1 1/4-mile turf race.

Five of the 10 entrants are most comfortable racing on or near the lead, setting the stage for a closer to rally to victory.

The view here is that closer will be Hold Me Back. A successful Polytrack performer, with a victory this spring in the Grade 2 Lane's End and a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Blue Grass, he is proven class and a horse likely to like the grass.

His 368 Turf Tomlinson rating suggests as much, as does a deeper analysis into his pedigree. His dam, the Unbridled's Song mare Restraint, has already dropped two grass winners from her four foals to race, and neither was by a turf stud of the caliber of Giant's Causeway, Hold Me Back's sire.

One of the winners, the Japanese-based Seizan Speed, is by Stormin Fever. The other, Salle de Bain, is a daughter of Sky Mesa.

Hold Me Back's accomplishments on Polytrack, a synthetic surface, further suggest he should like grass racing. In both the Lane's End and Blue Grass, he showed the kind of turn of foot that usually is indicative of a horse with turf potential.

Admittedly, Hold Me Back needs a form reversal to win the Virginia Derby. When he last raced in the May 2 Kentucky Derby, he was well positioned early, tracking the leaders in fifth, but came up empty in the stretch, fading to 12th, beaten more than 20 lengths.

The Derby came in the slop, however, and Hold Me Back, like many of the other starters that day, did not run to his capability.

Following the Derby, trainer Bill Mott wisely regrouped with Hold Me Back, and the colt has responded with a number of flashy works leading up to his return, including a couple on the grass course at Belmont.

Expect him to be ready. Mott is skilled at bringing horses back in peak form off layoffs, and Hold Me Back has already shown a liking for racing fresh, having won the Grade 2 Lane's End with a career-best 99 Beyer Speed Figure the last time he returned from a layoff.

Arlington Oaks: Odds key for Hot Cha Cha

If Saturday's Arlington Oaks goes to post with odds similar to those presented on track's morning line, I won't be playing the race. But somehow I doubt the starting odds will mirror the morning line.

Hot Cha Cha, the morning-line favorite, is likely to drift up from her 9-5 price, likely going off at 5-2. Meanwhile, I fully expect C. S. Silk to get hammered down to favoritism in the wagering.

The reason is clear. There is a lack of pace in the 1 1/8-mile race on Polytrack, aside from the front-running C. S. Silk, winner of last year's Arlington-Washington Lassie in wire-to-wire fashion.

The public will likely expect that filly to go to the front, set a soft pace, and kick away from the field. And perhaps she may, but on a synthetic track like Polytrack, the advantage of an easy lead takes on less importance than it would on a dirt track.

As for Hot Cha Cha, I'm encouraged by her return to racing on Polytrack following three defeats on turf - races that were deceptively good when taking into account troubled trips.

On figures - particularly those that take into account ground loss - it is racing on Polytrack that is her specialty. She showed as much this March at Turfway in winning a pair of fast routes on Polytrack, most notably the Grade 3 Bourbonette by six lengths despite being hung five wide from start to finish.

If Hot Cha Cha goes off at 5-2 or higher, she is worth the gamble that she can run down C. S. Silk.

Bernhardt: King of the Roxy a bet against

King of the Roxy is the biggest name in Saturday's $50,000 Don Bernhardt Stakes at Ellis Park but far from the best play in the 6 1/2-furlong dirt race. Despite his accomplishments, which include victories in the Grade 2 Hutcheson in 2007 and Grade 2 Futurity in 2006, he is a bet against, having not raced since April 2008 when sixth in the Grade 1 Carter.

My hope is that his name and accomplishments will prove too much for bettors to resist, setting up Vicarian to go off at a square price.

Dropping in class following an eighth-place finish in the Grade 3 Aristides at Churchill, Vicarian looks poised for an improved effort after a brief freshening.

I am further encouraged that trainer Ian Wilkes chose to give him that freshening at Skylight Training Center, which has a Pro-Ride surface and a off-track atmosphere that can rejuvenate a horse.

Vicarian has already spent time there with success. He trained there last summer and also this spring, a few weeks before he kicked off his 2009 campaign with a runner-up finish to the classy Bold Start in an allowance prep for the Aristides.

Adding to his appeal is the presence of jockey Calvin Borel, who has teamed up to win at a 20-percent rate with Wilkes in 2008-2009.