01/07/2007 12:00AM

Sir Greeley gets winning scenario


NEW YORK - Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park are the two premier race meets of the winter, and both tracks offer multi-stakes race cards on Saturday. At Santa Anita, the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap and the Grade 3 San Ysabel Stakes are the main attractions. At Gulfstream, the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap, the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector Handicap, and the Fort Lauderdale Stakes are the highlights.

Hal's Hope Handicap

I certainly have nothing against Sweetnorthernsaint. Heck, I picked him in last year's Kentucky Derby off his huge win in the Illinois Derby, and he was second in the Preakness to Bernardini, who went on to prove to be a freak. But Sweetnorthernsaint is going to be overbet here off two easy comeback wins last fall in which he beat a grand total of four opponents, so he might be worth trying to beat this time. I take the same view with Strong Contender, who will receive a lot of parimutuel support after competing last year in races such as the Blue Grass and Haskell, and winning the Dwyer and Super Derby. But Strong Contender is at risk of getting outquicked early in this race, and finding himself with a lot of ground to make up.

I'm going with Sir Greeley, whose two victories last year were in one-turn mile races like this. The first of those was a score at Gulfstream over Funny Cide, and the other was a very fast win in the Westchester Handicap. Sir Greeley turned in his best performance since the Westchester in his most recent appearance, on Thanksgiving, when he was a gaining second to the loose-on-the-lead Afrashad in the Fall Highweight Handicap, and his best-of-50 workout on New Year's Eve suggests he is primed for a peak effort.

Mr. Prospector Handicap

Mach Ride strikes me as being a horse who has the potential of falling through the cracks betting-wise in this race, as his last two running lines look dull at first glance, and he is coming back off a layoff. I hope that proves to be the case, because I like him.

Mach Ride's last two races aren't as bad as they might appear. Last time out, he stopped after contesting the pace in the Perryville Stakes. But everyone knows how unsuccessful speed was on Keeneland's new Polytrack, so that effort can be forgiven. Two starts back, Mach Ride was a well-beaten fourth in the King's Bishop Stakes. But given that he stumbled badly at the start, it is to his credit that he was even able to get that close. It is interesting to note that Mach Ride was fourth choice in the King's Bishop betting behind odds-on favorite Henny Hughes because of the ability Mach Ride demonstrated in his prior two starts. One was an off-the-pace score in the Valid Video Stakes, and the other was a strong second in the quickly run Carry Back Stakes after contesting a very fast pace. I expect Mach Ride to employ the style he showed in the Carry Back.

San Pasqual Handicap

A quick and contested pace is likely with the presence of Cheroot, who is a front-runner; Spellbinder, who likes to be right up on the pace; Preachinatthebar, who will probably come out running from his inside post; and Declan's Moon, who has shown speed in quick-paced sprint races. Dixie Meister requires a fast pace to effectively rally, and for that reason he is the play.

Dixie Meister got a quick pace last time out in the Cigar Mile, but he didn't do anything. You can forget about that race because he was up against the brilliant Discreet Cat. But, Dixie Meister showed that with the right fractions he is capable of winning a race like this when he upset the Californian last June.