07/05/2009 11:00PM

Seaspeak's late kick is awesome


NEW YORK - As you might expect, there is a terrific stakes schedule on the Independence Day holiday Saturday, with big cards at Monmouth Park and Belmont Park. Monmouth hosts the richest race of the entire weekend in the Grade 1, $750,000 United Nations Stakes, supported by the Grade 3, $250,000 Salvator Mile. Belmont, meanwhile, has a stakes tripleheader, led by the Grade 2, $400,000 Suburban Handicap and the Grade 1, $250,000 Prioress Stakes, and rounded out by the Grade 2, $200,000 Dwyer Stakes.

Elsewhere, the Grade 2, $150,000 Firecracker Handicap is the feature on the next-to-last card of the Churchill Downs meet, the Grade 3, $100,000 Chicago Handicap is the main event at Arlington, and the Grade 2, $150,000 American Handicap is the headliner at Hollywood Park. Don't get too down on Hollywood, though. Its big day of the weekend is Sunday, when it will present a Grade 1 stakes doubleheader of the $700,000 American Oaks, and the $300,000 Triple Bend.

Firecracker Handicap

Thorn Song and Mr. Sidney are the two classiest horses in this race, but neither one necessarily has to win. Sure, Thorn Song returns to a course he loves; he won this race last year over Einstein. But even though Thorn Song snapped out of a slump last time out when he upset the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park, I'm not sure how good a field he beat out West. Storm Military was beaten only a head and a neck finishing third in the Shoemaker after being denied the early lead by Thorn Song, and Storm Military isn't usually so game when he can't control the pace. In other words, I have my doubts about the race Thorn Song comes out of, and I've relied on less for reasons to try and beat a probable favorite.

As for Mr. Sidney, I won't hold his dull effort most recently in the Metropolitan Mile against him because there was no evidence going into that race that he is anywhere near as effective on dirt as he is on turf. Mr. Sidney gamely held on in the Grade 1 Maker's Mark Mile two starts back, but that might have been as much a function of Passager refusing to go by him.

Seaspeak looks like a vastly improved performer this year at 4, and I think he can take this field at a nice price despite the class jump.

Seaspeak showed the class needed to win a race like this last fall when he edged Cowboy Cal (he was subsequently disqualified and placed second) in the Bryan Station Stakes at Keeneland. Since that race, Cowboy Cal has won two Grade 2 stakes at Santa Anita, and finished second in two Grade 1 races, one of which was a narrow loss to Einstein in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day.

Anyway, Seaspeak has been overwhelming winning both of his starts this year, including the Dallas Turf Cup last time out. Granted, Seaspeak didn't beat a lot most recently at Lone Star, but according to DRF's Formulator, he went his last three furlongs in that nine- furlong race in 34.18 seconds, and his last five furlongs in 57.74. I don't care how slow they went early, or how fast the turf was, that is some serious late running, and is an indication Seaspeak is capable of tackling tougher company.

Salvator Mile

Smooth Air was beaten only a half-length when second ahead of 10 opponents in the Grade 1 Met Mile last time out as the co-favorite, so he ought to be very hard to handle in this spot. He probably will be, but Smooth Air won't be any sort of value, betting-wise. And it bothers me a little that My Pal Charlie, who was arguably best when fourth in the Met Mile, came back with a performance I wasn't crazy about in last week's Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap.

I like Solar Flare. True, Solar Flare beat only three opponents when he won a small stakes over the Monmouth track last time out, but it's not like he was the beneficiary of a dream trip behind a duel or anything, because the field raced in single file fashion early. No, Solar Flare simply ran out of his mind, earning an eye-catching 111 Beyer and beating an opponent by nine lengths in runner-up Nite Light, who came back to miss by a nose in the Brooklyn.

Suburban Handicap

Speaking of the Brooklyn, it was run on a day at Belmont when the rail was an absolute conveyor belt to the winner's circle. Rising Moon, who finished third as the favorite in the Brooklyn, never got to the rail at any point of that race, actually racing three to four wide around the first turn and down the backstretch. Rising Moon should now be primed for a peak performance third start back off a long layoff, and when he is on his game, he can earn Beyer Figures competitive with most of his opponents here. He is taken to upset.

A strange sidebar to this race involves probable favorite It's a Bird. I understand jockey Julien Leparoux must have given a commitment to trainer Jonathan Sheppard to ride Informed Decision in the Chicago Handicap at Arlington Saturday, and Leparoux also rides champion Forever Together for Sheppard. But it is intriguing that Leparoux, who has partnered with It's a Bird to earn more than $1.1 million already this year, didn't find a way to stick with this horse in the Suburban, which is, after all, worth $250,000 more than the Chicago Cap.

Don't get me started on my theories about the Grassy Knoll.