10/25/2009 11:00PM

Sky Haven excels on synthetic track


NEW YORK - Call it the lull before the Breeders' Cup storm, but there is a light national stakes schedule Saturday. The highest ranked race in the country Saturday is the Grade 1, $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel.

The feature at Keeneland, the Grade 2 Raven Run Stakes, matches the De Francis purse. The Grade 3, $100,000 Harold C. Ramser Sr. Handicap at Oak Tree at Santa Anita is the only other graded event on the schedule.

At Belmont Park, meanwhile, it's New York Showcase Day for New York-breds, with the $250,000 Empire Classic serving as the headliner.

Raven Run Stakes

Off her third last time out to the accomplished (and older) Informed Decision in the Presque Isle Downs Masters, and her win two starts back in the Grade 1 Test Stakes, Flashing will likely be the favorite here. But while her Test win might give her bragging rights going into this race, and though the move back in with straight 3-year-olds Saturday is a significant one even at this time of the year, Flashing is a favorite worth trying to beat. The simple fact is, she is just not appreciably faster, if faster at all, than a bunch of others in this race.

I'm not in love with Just Jenda or Best Lass either. Just Jenda has had a nice year, winning four stakes, but none of them was at the expense of especially strong company, and this will be her first start on a synthetic surface. Best Lass comes into this off a career-best score in the Prairie Meadows Oaks, and a duplicate of that performance would make her a contender. Her position Saturday is tricky, however. Having to break from the rail with 13 others scheduled to break outside of her, I think Best Lass might have to be used too much early to avoid being shuffled too far back early.

Sky Haven is the play here off solid graded stakes efforts in New York in her last two starts, and her past success on synthetic. Last time out, Sky Haven finished a reasonably close third in the Gallant Bloom behind two-time champion Indian Blessing and the last horse to beat Rachel Alexandra, Sara Louise. Notably, Indian Blessing and Sara Louise are two legitimate contenders for the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in two weeks.

Now, some might say that the Gallant Bloom had a field of only six, and Sky Haven finished third because someone had to. The fact is, there were not empty manes and tails behind her that day. The fourth finisher in the Gallant Bloom was Thunders Dove, who had won her prior five starts by a total of 25 lengths, and the sixth-place finisher was Any Limit, a multiple graded stakes winner.

Two starts back, Sky Haven was a creditable fourth to Sara Louise in the Victory Ride Stakes, a race from which the runner-up, Bold Union, came back to beat older opponents in the Endine Stakes in her next start. And as for her ability on synthetic tracks, established last year at 2, Sky Haven is just a nose away from being 3 for 3 on that type of footing.

Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash

The rail draw could be an issue here, too, for Vineyard Haven. Vineyard Haven was very good getting to the wire first last time out in the King's Bishop (he was rightly disqualified for stretch interference) in what was his first start in six months, and first legitimate performance in 11 months. And Vineyard Haven has been given suitable time to recover from what had to be a draining King's Bishop effort. But with a sharp speedball breaking right next door, Vineyard Haven will be under the gun from the start, and that's a concern.

I'm going with True Quality, who was the best horse involved in the break-up this year of Paraneck Stable, and whose campaign has been a mess as a result. True Quality probably wasn't ready for the Carter three starts back, but he ran anyway and wasn't disgraced. The turf spot at Penn National two back was a curious choice, and he might not have been really set for the Forego last time out. However, True Quality tried hard in the Forego - he was still in there battling in deep stretch - and given his fine recent works, he can take a big step forward off that effort. And True Quality showed real ability early in the year when he won the Paumonok at Aqueduct and the General George (albeit with the benefit of an easy early lead) over the Laurel track.

Harold C. Ramser Handicap

Mrs Kipling and Acting Lady would both be very tough if they were in the form they were in earlier this year. But since both are coming into this off layoffs, their current form is in question. April Pride, on the other hand, looks primed to reach peak form, and is the pick.

The last time April Pride made a third start off a layoff, she delivered a decisive victory last March in the China Doll Stakes over this course, beating Acting Lady, among others. April Pride, an improved third most recently, will be making her third start off another layoff Saturday. It's tough for me to ignore the pattern.