07/11/2007 11:00PM

Royal Highness vs. Safari Queen


Todd Pletcher won the last two runnings of the Robert Dick Memorial Handicap with the best long-distance grass mare in his barn, Honey Ryder. But on Saturday, with Honey Ryder having raced last week in the United Nations Stakes, Safari Queen will have to do for Team Pletcher.

Safari Queen was beaten a length by Honey Ryder in her last start, the May 26 Sheepshead Bay, and in Royal Highness, she may have a similarly formidable foe in the Dick, a 1 3/8-mile grass race.

In all, 11 were entered in the race, which is deep and solid for a stakes that is ungraded. Mid-Atlantic-based regulars like Humoristic, Omeya, and the improving Graham Motion-trained Rosinka are plenty good enough to win a typical listed stakes. But with a $300,000 purse, the Dick is no typical race for the class level, and the two high-class mares from New York will be tough to get past.

Safari Queen and the Christophe Clement-trained Royal Highness have met twice, trading decisions. Safari Queen beat Royal Highness last year in the Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct, and Royal Highness came out two lengths on top in The Very One Handicap this past February at Gulfstream Park. The difference between those two races? Pace, for one. Admirably consistent, Safari Queen is a strong galloper who likes to race close to the lead, and in the Long Island she got first run on Royal Highness, who lagged many lengths behind a false pace. With quicker fractions at Gulfstream, Royal Highness quickly ran past Safari Queen in the stretch.

The pace doesn't figure to be fast Saturday, and Royal Highness hasn't started since The Very One, but she still would seem to be the one to beat under Ramon Dominguez. Layoffs like this mean little when Clement is at the helm, and Royal Highness has been working steadily in New York. In fact, it would be no surprise if she used Saturday's race as a springboard for a strong late summer and fall campaign. Royal Highness, a German-bred 5-year-old, has started only three times in the United States, and during the French phase of her career she showed high class, placing in several Group 1 races.

Carpenter: Early speed galore

If a handicapper could forecast which horse among six entered in the $100,000 Carpenter Handicap can be taken back off the pace and come with a late run, a handicapper might have found the winner. But this is no easy task.

The only confirmed closer in the Carpenter, a 1 1/16-mile dirt race, is Smart Growth, and in two starts this season, Smart Growth has not shown his best. Fifth in the Carpenter last year, Smart Growth turned in a couple 2006 performances good enough to contend Saturday, but he's iffy.

Beyond that, front-runners of varying degrees make up the Carpenter field. Take the Bluff failed to make the front last out in the Salvator Mile at Monmouth and wound up nowhere. Drawn on the rail this time, he has little choice but to leave the gate running.

Like Now, who missed more than a year of racing after a poor showing in the 2006 Preakness, has done all his best work on the lead. Barcola just won the $100,000 Brandywine at Delaware by - that's right - leading wire to wire, and Awfully Smart has scored consecutive local two-turn allowance wins in - all together now - front-running fashion. The outside horse, Better Than Bonds, stalked the pace but couldn't catch Barcola in the Brandywine. With more speed horses signed on in the Carpenter, his chances increase, but even Better Than Bonds wants to race fairly close to the lead.