07/13/2017 3:36PM

Pleuven vs. Chocolate Ride in Warrior Veterans

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Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Pleuven wins the Opening Verse Stakes in May.

The richest races of the 10-race, six-stakes card Saturday night at Indiana Grand are the $500,000 Indiana Derby and the $200,000 Indiana Oaks, but the best races on the card are the two $100,000 turf stakes: the Warrior Veterans and the Indiana General Assembly Distaff.

The Warrior Veterans (race 5, 7:57 Eastern) is carded at 1 1/16 miles and drew a very deep field of 10, with Pleuven and Chocolate Ride the two likely favorites. Neither should be taken lightly.

Pleuven was the 17-10 favorite in this race a year ago but lost all chance when he hit the gate at the start, falling back to last and never recovering.

This year, Pleuven might have used up his bad luck June 17 in the Grade 2 Wise Dan Stakes at Churchill Downs. Having sharply won the Opening Verse Stakes over the course in his previous start, Pleuven was the 2-1 Wise Dan favorite, but as Kasaqui stormed to victory, Pleuven got stuck in traffic, winding up sixth. Better fortune can land Pleuven, a 6-year-old gelding trained by Phil Sims, his eighth win from 20 starts.

Chocolate Ride, meanwhile, made his name as a Fair Grounds turf specialist during the 2014-15 season, when he won the Mervin Muniz Memorial, and still was quite good the following meet, when he won two more stakes.

Chocolate Ride, now 7, had less success during the 2016-17 Fair Grounds meeting but, somewhat surprisingly, woke up when he got to Churchill Downs this spring. He was a sharp allowance winner there May 18 and, trainer Brad Cox said, trained like a bear into the Wise Dan, where he set the pace and held second.

Chocolate Ride could wind up the lone speed Saturday night if Western Reserve starts instead in the Schaefer Memorial on dirt.

Gangster is the 5-2 morning-line favorite, but despite exiting a fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile, the Doug O’Neill-trained horse figures to go postward at longer odds than Pleuven and Chocolate Ride. Others to consider are Special Ops and Conquest Typhoon.

Linda seeks rebound

Trainer Ian Wilkes blames himself for Linda’s subpar performance June 10 in the Mint Julep Handicap at Churchill Downs. Fearing that the speedy Believe in Bertie would steal the race on the lead, Wilkes said he instructed jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. to keep the pacesetter in his sights.

“We asked her to do something she wasn’t comfortable doing,” Wilkes said. “We’ll let her run her own race this time.”

The time for Linda to run back is Saturday night in the $100,000 Indiana General Assembly Distaff, and a return to her best form, plus a fair share of racing luck, should land Linda her first win in 2017.

Believe in Bertie did shake loose on the Mint Julep lead, but she was run down by Dona Bruja, who was extremely impressive in winning the Modesty Handicap last weekend at Arlington. Linda in her three starts this year also has faced the Grade 1-class Roca Rojo and Celestine, as well as Mississippi Delta, who won the Intercontinental Stakes last month at Belmont, and while this race is solid for the class level, it’s a step down in quality for Linda.

Lovely Loyree, who won the 2016 General Assembly and would have been a key player Saturday, got sick this week and will be scratched, trainer Michele Boyce said.

Queen Caroline, based at Fair Hill in Maryland with trainer Michael Matz, shipped twice to win turf stakes restricted to 3-year-olds at Indiana Grand last summer but is taking a considerable step up in class after winning a Virginia-bred stakes at Laurel last out.

Sky My Sky and Hip Hop N Jazz could pose the stiffest challenge to Linda, who probably will be solidly favored with Lovely Loyree out of the race.

Competitive cast in Schaefer

The Indiana-bred Bucchero never has finished worse than second in seven starts over the Indiana Grand main track, and if he can shake loose on the lead in the $100,000 Michael G. Schaefer Stakes on Saturday night, that streak can continue.

Bucchero is a front-runner in two-turn dirt races such as the Schaefer, and there is not much other speed entered, especially if Western Reserve winds up in the Warrior Veterans, for which he is cross-entered. Bucchero handles turf, dirt, and synthetics, can race both long and short, and was a fine second at Presque Isle Downs last out in a Tapeta Footings sprint stakes.

Eagle is the 5-2 morning-line favorite but has struggled to find his best form in four starts this year. Eagle had a fine 4-year-old season, finishing second by a half-length in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster, but after looking like he was rounding into peak condition over the winter at Fair Grounds, he was a distant eighth in the May 19 Pimlico Special, his most recent start.

Something similar holds for Mo Tom, whose last win came more than a year ago in the Ohio Derby, and who comes off a one-paced seventh in the June 17 Stephen Foster.

Besides Bucchero, the in-form horses are Fear the Cowboy, whose close second behind Iron Fist last out in the Evangeline Mile was flattered when Iron Fist decisively won the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap last weekend, and Money Flows, who has been carefully managed to an excellent 5-3-2 record from 11 starts by trainer Al Stall and comes off a May 27 Churchill allowance win.

◗ Big World is the deserving favorite in the $100,000 Mari Hulman George but is no cinch in the two-turn dirt race for older fillies and mares. Big World won a soft Grade 1 on May 5 at Churchill when she captured the La Troienne but could finish only fourth last month in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis and could be vulnerable late if pushed early. One interesting upset candidate is Cced, who appears to have trained strongly since a May 27 allowance win at Churchill.