07/16/2010 12:00AM

Points of Grace right key in Dance Smartly

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The $300,000 Dance Smartly at Woodbine on Sunday is a 1 1/8-mile, Grade 2 turf race for fillies and mares. A small but competitive field of six is scheduled to run.

Points of Grace won this race last year. She also is the potential speed of the speed. But some of her recent races have been subpar. She finished fourth twice and fifth once in three of her four subsequent starts since her victory last year.

Points of Grace finished fourth of six going a mile in the Grade 2 Nassau when she returned from a seven-month layoff, but that effort is stronger than it appears to be at first glance. She set the pace for six furlongs, and the 24.34-second opening quarter was nothing special. But the middle of her race was much better. She ran a quick 22.82 second quarter, followed by a strong 22.97 third quarter, which resulted in a 1:10.13 six-furlong time. Given the fast 45.79 middle half-mile fraction (excluding the opening and final quarter-mile fractions) of that race, it isn't surprising that she tired late following her long vacation.

Although the sample size is small, it is interesting to note that trainer Malcolm Pierce has won with 3 of 10 starters second time back from breaks of six months and longer, with a $2.58 return on investment. That 30 percent win rate is nearly triple his 11 percent batting average overall. Points of Grace has trained sharply since her return from the sidelines, so an improved performance would not be a surprise.

Gypsy's Warning is a tempting selection. She was away from the races for nearly a year, then ran a nice race when she was up in time to beat Grade 3 opponents by a nose at Monmouth in her first race outside of South Africa, where she won two Group 1 races. She has had nearly seven weeks to recover from that performance, so there is a good chance that she will be able to avoid significant regression as she makes her second U.S. start.

Ave broke slowly, then rallied to finish a close third two races ago in the Grade 3 Gallorette at Pimlico. Her Beyer Speed Figure declined from 99 to 90 last time when she finished a nonthreatening third of five in the Grade 2 New York at Belmont. A return to the form she showed at Pimlico would make her a major player in this race.

Mekong Melody won three of four races last year while climbing the class ladder. She won the Flaming Page at Woodbine in September, then headed for the sidelines. Trainer Roger Attfield (who also trains Ave) has won with 30 percent of a group of 33 runners returning from vacations of six months and longer, with a generous $3.65 ROI. This filly has been training well, and a good effort is possible at a square price.

Magic Broomstick has won four of her last five races, all against softer company. She will have to continue on the upswing to upset this field.

First Circle faces a difficult task on the class raise.

I'll give a slight edge to Points of Grace to win the race, but my focus will be on the exacta rather than the win pool. I'll key her on top in the exacta over Gypsy's Warning, Ave, and Mekong Melody.

Sunset: Champ Pegasus on rise

The Grade 3, $100,000 Sunset Handicap, a 1 1/2-mile turf race at Hollywood Park, drew a seven-horse field that is remarkably light on graded stakes wins. A glance at the 12 most recent races run by each of the horses shows that they have won a combined total of just 2 of their 28 previous recent graded or group stakes starts.

I would like to select a horse with early or tactical speed here, and at first glance Marlang is the obvious candidate. But it is a concern that he tired down the stretch and finished last of five last time in a one-mile race, returning from a nine-month layoff. That isn't an optimal prep race for a horse who is about to stretch out to 1 1/2 miles. Factor in the likelihood of receiving modest odds on this horse, and I'm willing to take a chance while seeing if I can beat him with a rival at higher odds.

I'll make Champ Pegasus my selection. He only beat $40,000 first-level optional claimers last time, but he is lightly raced and improving. He was visually impressive in that race while only being asked to deliver enough of a late spurt to win. Even so, he earned a solid 89 Beyer, not far behind the numbers earned by the leading contenders in their recent races. His tactical speed makes a good trip likely. I'll bet him to win and place.