08/27/2009 11:00PM

Siding against the big Beyer

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Jim Lisa
Jessica Is Back, with a last-race Beyer Speed Figure that is 18 points higher than her closest rival, figures to be the Molly Pitcher favorite.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Does it make sense to bet against a mare whose last-race Beyer Speed Figure is 18 points higher than the next-best last-race Beyer of all of her opponents? We'll find out in the 1 1/16-mile, Grade 2 Molly Pitcher at Monmouth, one of three graded stakes races being run Sunday.

Jessica Is Back owned a clear lead throughout when she won the Nancy's Glitter at Calder by 5 1/2 lengths on a sloppy track in her most recent race. She earned a career-best 111 Beyer that day, while compiling the biggest win margin showing among her last 12 races. The second-largest margin of victory from those races is a five-length win last year on a sloppy track at Meadowlands. That's not to say that Jessica Is Back is invincible on sloppy tracks as she was a well-beaten fourth on one two years ago and she was far back in fifth on one last year. But she clearly has a preference for that track condition, with 5 wins from 8 races in the slop. She also has won 2 of 6 races on other varieties of wet tracks.

If she lucks into another wet track Sunday, Jessica Is Back will be the one they'll have to beat in the Molly Pitcher. But if the track is fast, as the weather forecast suggests that it could be, I'll try to beat her. I'll give the edge to Euphony who won six straight races, including the Grade 3 Arlington Matron, prior to losing her last race by a nose when she switched from dirt to turf. Euphony should enjoy a good trip while tracking likely leaders Jessica Is Back and Devil House and can kick past them down the stretch.

The Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap, a 1 3/8-mile turf race, figures to be competitive. Black Astor is the only member of the field with a graded stakes victory in his last start. He set a slow pace while beating three rivals in the Grade 2 Sunset last time in his return from a six-month vacation. Horses with early speed have been less effective in turf routes at Del Mar than they were in turf routes at Hollywood, so regression is possible.

I'll give the call to Spring House, who finished second behind Black Astor as the 1-2 favorite in the Sunset. He won this race last year and should be set to improve today, second time back from a 50-day layoff. Trainer Julio Canani shows 31 percent wins and a $2.57 return on investment with runners second time back from breaks of 45 to 180 days.

Artiste Royal has finished among the top three or within two lengths of the winner against graded stakes company in each of his last six races and should be useful in the exotics.

The 1 1/4-mile, Grade 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga is the biggest race of the day. Unbridled Belle is the leading money earner in the field, with more than $1.7 million, and should be among the favorites. The concern is that she settled for third as the 11-10 favorite last time in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap behind two opponents that she'll face again in this race.

Miss Isella defeated Grade 2 rivals in two consecutive races at Churchill, then broke slowly and finished second as the 6-5 favorite last time at Saratoga in the Grade 1 Go for Wand. A better beginning would boost her chances, but she does her best running at Churchill, with 5 wins and 1 second-place finish from 7 races on that main track. Her Beyers earned everywhere else have only been moderate.

Icon Project was a turf specialist until she won the Grade 3 New York, which was taken off the turf, by 13 lengths on a muddy track. She wasn't a threat to Swift Temper while finishing second on a fast track last time in the Delaware, but if that rival duels up front today, Icon Project could be the one to capitalize.

Swift Temper led throughout while winning the Delaware Handicap. A slow pace helped her that day, and the fractions figure to be faster on Sunday, with Weathered capable of grabbing the early lead if she is asked to do so. But Swift Temper doesn't necessarily need the early lead to run well and she seems sharp enough to repeat. I'll make her my selection.