06/23/2010 11:00PM

Salty Strike figures strong off debut


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - With a field of just seven entered in Saturday's Grade 3 Debutante at Churchill Downs, there is little betting value to be found.

The same cannot be said of talent, at least among the better entries. In a 2-year-old filly division that across the country has been lacking in quality, there are at least two fillies in the Debutante that look like they could develop into major stakes players this summer.

Those two are pair of first-out winners at Churchill, Salty Strike and Just Louise. Both displayed a high level of speed in winning their maidens and are bred to develop into good ones.

My choice Saturday is Salty Strike. A daughter of Smart Strike trained by Ken McPeek, she impressed with a fast victory May 14 - a race she won by more than four lengths.

In racing five furlongs in 57.79 seconds, she ran a 78 Beyer Speed Figure, easily the best of any entrant in the Debutante.

Beyond speed, she is similarly appealing in terms of the company she defeated in her maiden victory. Both runner-up Blue Orleans and third-place Le Mi Geaux returned to win their next starts.

As for her drawing the fence, given her style and the presence of the rail-loving Calvin Borel in the saddle, that may not prove a hindrance. She broke quickly and straight as a string in her debut, a highly professional effort from a first-timer.

As for Just Louise, she, too, merits watching, although I doubt she can outrun Salty Strike. In winning her debut May 28, racing five furlongs in 58.25 seconds and earning a 65 Beyer, she overcame a troubled start and being stuck behind horses early.

She won easily, although not against a field of the quality Salty Strike defeated. Those that have returned out of that contest have run below the public's expectations in their subsequent starts.

California shippers tough at Prairie Meadows

Mere hours after riding at Churchill in the Debutante, Borel and Robby Albarado aim to be riding at Prairie Meadows in a night card that includes three graded stakes races, capped by the Grade 2, $300,000 Cornhusker.

Their California riding counterparts seem to be holding the stronger hand, however, particularly in the first two stakes on the card, the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks and Grade 3 Iowa Derby.

All Due Respect, coming off a blowout win at Hollywood Park on June 6, is my play to win the Iowa Oaks under Mike Smith.

Entering the Iowa Oaks, I expect her to regress off the 104 Beyer she earned in winning at Hollywood recently, but not to such an extent that she will not handle this group.

This is a filly at her best at the 1 1/16 miles of the Iowa Oaks, and even in her preceding race, the seven-furlong Railbird, she ran a solid 92 Beyer for trainer Kathy Walsh.

Her main opponent looks to be Quiet Temper, the Fair Grounds Oaks winner who ran fourth in the Grade 1 Acorn after finishing eighth in the Kentucky Oaks.

A race later in Iowa Derby, I'll take Laz Barrera runner-up Concord Point, who tries dirt racing and two turns for the first time.

Although untested under those conditions, he gives the impression of a horse that should run well. His trainer, Bob Baffert, is typically potent with shippers from California, and Concord Point, by Tapit out of a Boston Harbor mare, is bred to handle dirt.

Concord Point is not exactly poetry in motion to watch, often reluctant to change leads or simply refusing to do so, but that has not stopped him from running quickly. Twice he has run Beyers in the mid 90s, including in the Laz Barrera, when he posted a 97 for a half-length defeat behind the speedy Smiling Tiger under his regular rider Martin Garcia.

He has a talent edge over most in the field, with the possible exception of Winslow Homer, who he catches coming off a five-month layoff after winning the Grade 3 Holy Bull on Jan. 23.

If Winslow Homer returns at anything less than 100 percent fitness, he likely won't be able to keep up with Concord Point.

Other key runners have weaknesses as well, with Thiskyhasnolimit being more established as a one-turn runner and Vow to Wager coming back on just two weeks' rest after running third in Grade 3 Northern Dancer at Churchill Downs on June 12.