02/15/2010 12:00AM

Rendezvous has date with destiny


NEW YORK - Thanks to races that were rescheduled from last Saturday's rainout, Santa Anita boasts four graded stakes on its card Saturday. The Grade 2, $250,000 Santa Maria Handicap, the original headliner of the day, is now joined by the Grade 1, $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes, the Grade 2, $200,000 Strub Stakes, and the Grade 2, $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes.

There are also four graded stakes to be decided Saturday in Florida, but they are divided up between Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park. At Tampa Bay, the featured Grade 3, $225,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes is supported by the Grade 3, $125,000 Endeavor Stakes, with the $75,000 Suncoast Stakes thrown in for good measure. At Gulfstream, the Grade 2, $150,000 Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship Stakes and the Grade 3, $125,000 Hurricane Bertie Stakes are the main events.

The remaining graded event on Saturday's national stakes schedule was to be Laurel Park's Grade 2, $150,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap, but that and the $75,000 John B. Campbell Handicap have been moved to Monday's Presidents Day card at Laurel.

Strub Stakes

This was the top-ranked betting opportunity in last week's Weekend Warrior in the expectation of a different early pace scenario than was seen in the first two legs of the Strub series, the Malibu and San Fernando. If anything, there is even more reason to believe there will be a different pace setup in the Strub, so I'm eager to revisit this race.

The Malibu and San Fernando were races that lacked legitimate early pace, making them inconclusive affairs. M One Rifle escaped with very reasonable early fractions in the Malibu, something you rarely see in a 13-horse sprint at Santa Anita, and parlayed that into a front running win. The pace in the San Fernando was just plain slow, and the winner, Papa Clem, topped an exacta made up of the two front-runners.

Neither M One Rifle nor Papa Clem is in this race, and that's unfortunate, because they would have been bet-againsts. But even in their absence, and despite the defection of the speedy Diferentkindagreat, who was not re-entered after being in the Strub field last week, the pace this time should be more honest. Acclamation, who was not in the original Strub field, has some early lick, and in that regard he sort of substitutes for Diferentkindagreat. And between him, and other pace players like Heavenly Wind and Smart Bid, those whose late-running styles might have been compromised last time have a much better chance to make an impact this time.

I'm even more intrigued with Rendezvous than I was last week. Rendezvous finished an even third in the San Fernando off a two-month layoff after 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, something I envision here, he can be very effective dropping back and making one big run. He proved that last summer when he upset the Del Mar Derby. Beyond getting more pace Saturday than he did in the San Fernando, Rendezvous has a license to take a step forward second start off the layoff, and he should be a square price.

As was the case last week, Misremembered is absolutely the horse to beat. 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 second two starts back in the Clark Handicap, a fine effort considering he was narrowly beaten after a costly wide trip. Misremembered projects to sit a perfect stalking trip in the Strub from close range. The only problem with him is he will offer no betting value.

Santa Maria Handicap

Life Is Sweet and Mushka, the one-two finishers in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic over the track last November, make their 2010 debuts in this spot. It would be foolish to say that neither can win here, because they are obviously high-class mares. But I think it's worth taking a shot against them Saturday, and not just because they're coming off three-month layoffs.

In the Ladies' Classic, both Life Is Sweet and Mushka had their late kicks greatly enhanced when pacesetter Careless Jewel got rank and ran off in the early stages. That isn't to say these two won't get an honest pace to shoot at in the Santa Maria. It is to suggest, however, that the optimal conditions Life Is Sweet and Mushka encountered in the Breeders' Cup might have made them look better than they really are.

I like St Trinians. St Trinians is stepping up, but she deserves this chance after scoring decisively in her first three U.S. starts, including a win at the distance over the track in an overnight stakes most recently, which was good for a Beyer Speed Figure (102) that is competitive with the best in this race. I also like that St Trinians has some positional speed, which means she will get first jump on Life Is Sweet and Mushka.

Hurricane Bertie Stakes

Pretty Prolific, Warbling, and Tar Heel Mom were separated by a head and a nose when one-two-three in the local stepping-stone to this, the Sugar Swirl Stakes. But I like Warbling this time, because she has a much bigger upside than the other two.

Even though she was undefeated going into the Sugar Swirl, it was a bit remarkable that Warbling was as close to Pretty Prolific and Tar Heel Mom as she was, for she had raced only twice before, while Pretty Prolific and Tar Heel Mom were making their 11th and 16th career starts, respectively. Clearly, Warbling has every right to improve, and two best-of-51 workouts since the Sugar Swirl says she's primed to take another step forward.