02/05/2009 1:00AM

Slew's Tiznow should improve

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NEW YORK - Santa Anita and Fair Grounds have just about cornered the market on all the major racing Saturday, with cards chock full of stakes races, many with the potential to have important implications on several divisions, including the Derby division.

At Santa Anita, where rain is in the forecast, the Grade 2, $300,000 Strub Stakes, the culmination of that track's unique series for 4-year-olds, is one feature. But also on the program are the Grade 2, $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, and the Grade 1, $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes, which will mark the seasonal debut of last year's champion 2-year-old filly Stardom Bound. The Lewis is, of course, an early stop on the road to the Kentucky Derby. But given the somewhat uninspiring feel to this group of 3-year-old males so far, Stardom Bound's performance in the Las Virgenes could well have impact on the Derby picture.

At Fair Grounds, the headliner is the Grade 3, $200,000 Risen Star Stakes, the local springboard to next month's Louisiana Derby. There also are five other stakes events to be decided there Saturday.

Strub Stakes

Which race do you think was the most meaningful prep for this event, the San Pasqual, the Sir Beaufort, or the traditional stepping-stone to this race, the San Fernando? As game as Cowboy Cal was winning the San Pasqual, the fact that he was all out to nose the implausible Informed and earned a meager Beyer Speed Figure of only 90 eliminates him. The Sir Beaufort and the San Fernando got identical winning Beyers of 99. But being inherently skeptical of off-the-turf races like the Sir Beaufort was this year, that leaves, for me anyway, the San Fernando as the strongest prep for this race.

So, the fact that Nownownow won the San Fernando going away, by almost three lengths in his first start with blinkers, makes him an easy pick here, right? Well, I do respect him in this race. The fact that Nownownow had a bullet six-furlong work six days ago just like he did six days before the San Fernando says that he retains sharp form. But there are two things that bother me about Nownownow here: First, he got an absolutely perfect trip last time out, saving ground all the way until a giant hole between horses opened for him to charge right on through, which maybe helped him look a bit better than he actually is. And, Nownownow was 18-1 in the San Fernando. He will be a much shorter price Saturday.

I'm going with another horse out of the San Fernando: Slew's Tiznow. Slew's Tiznow did not have a good trip in the San Fernando. He was caught three wide on the first turn, four to five wide on the far turn, and was floated seven to eight wide into the stretch, so he was far from disgraced finishing fourth, beaten five lengths. Notably, that was Slew's Tiznow's first start off a freshening. When he made his second start off a similar freshening two starts back, he dominated the War Chant Stakes, earning a career-best Beyer of 102, the best Beyer in this field. Sure, Slew's Tiznow must break from post 13 here, but there's a long enough run to the first turn to afford him the chance to drop in and save some ground, and the post might scare some potential backers off of him.

Risen Star Stakes

It's silly to think Giant Oak will be any sort of great price in this spot. He deserves to be one of the favorites, and the fact that he attracted the services of Edgar Prado will certainly not be lost on the betting public. But Giant Oak will be making his first start since November, and he is one of 13 entered in this race. So there is reason to hope that his odds, while far from juicy, will still be perfectly acceptable. Here's hoping, anyway, because Giant Oak looks like a solid play.

Giant Oak got second in a three-way photo in his last start, the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, the form for which got a huge boost last weekend. Capt. Candyman Can, who finished a neck behind Giant Oak that day, came back to score decisively in Gulfstream's Hutcheson Stakes. Beethoven, who finished a neck in front of Giant Oak in the Kentucky Jockey Club, came back to be a respectable fourth in the Holy Bull, also at Gulfstream, after being compromised by a bad post and a speed-favoring track.

As for Giant Oaks's layoff, he did win his career debut going long, so he's shown he can win off workouts, and his recent works at Fair Grounds have been very strong. Most importantly, with the main speed in this race having to go because of their outside posts, Giant Oak should get a strong enough pace to set up his late kick.

Tallahasee Stakes

This is the feature at Gulfstream and it attracted enough early speed to make you go hunting for a closer. Smooth Air, who won two Grade 2 stakes last year, made his last start in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and now drops in with Florida-breds. He certainly fits the bill. But while Smooth Air might simply be much the best here, he is making his first start in more than three months. And while he did win his only start on turf, he is still relatively inexperienced on grass and that could be a liability in a big field like this.

Strangely, there aren't many certified closers in this race. Vanquisher is one, and Fearless Eagle is another, but I landed on Vanquisher as he figures to be the bigger price.

Vanquisher finished first in his last two starts (he was disqualified in the first of those) and might be in the best form of his life. True, he meets much tougher in this race, but he shows a couple of stakes performances last year at Ellis and Tampa that put him right in the mix.