08/31/2007 12:00AM

Souvenir Slew gets the nod


LEXINGTON, Ky. - You can make an argument for a number of the contenders in Sunday's Grade 2 Del Mar Derby, a 1 1/8 mile turf race.

Stoneside finished second in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat on July 8, and will make his U.S. debut in this race. He has been a consistent runner with 12 top-three finishes from 13 career starts, but it remains to be seen if he will be set to match that form here. It is encouraging to note that trainer Julio Canani has won with 4 of 12 runners who were making their first North American start for him, with a $3.12 return on investment. Stoneside showed tactical speed in France, so he might be able to stay within striking distance early in this race.

Bleu Intense missed by only a head in the Group 3 Prix Daphnis on June 25. Trained by Bobby Frankel, he will make his first U.S. start in this race and figures to attract solid betting support. However, handicappers should note that Frankel has won with just 14 percent of a sample of 43 runners who made their first North American start for him, compared to his 24 percent win rate with all of his starters this year. The ROI on those shippers is a low $0.84.

Medici Code stayed close to the leaders through slow fractions, then kicked away late to win the Grade 2 La Jolla. He'll be a serious threat to win, and will be useful in the exotics. Worldly settled for second behind Medici Code as the favorite in the Grade 2 La Jolla. His consistency has been impressive with 4 wins and 2 second-place finishes from 7 races.

If Ten a Penny gets in from the also-eligible list, he would deserve respect. He beat Unusual Suspect by 1 1/2 lengths while winning a division of the Oceanside, then finished a close fourth in the La Jolla.

Knockout Artist edged Medici Code as the upset winner of the Oceanside at 19-1. He can contend at a square price if he runs as well this time, but the possibility of regression to a more typical effort looms large.

My selection to win the Del Mar Derby is Souvenir Slew. He finished a contending third behind Tiago in the Grade 2 Swaps on Cushion Track, then was a game winner of an $80,000 optional claiming race going this same 1 1/8 mile distance on the Del Mar turf course. The pace of this race figures to be mild, and Souvenir Slew has enough speed to take the early lead or to stay very close to it. That running style has been an advantage on this course.

Monday's Del Mar Debutante is another wide-open affair. Tasha's Miracle was a decisive winner of the Grade 3 Sorrento and should be formidable, but there is no shortage of contenders in the lineup.

The Golden Noodle kicked home strongly to win the Landaluce convincingly, and should like the extra furlong she will be asked to cover here. Second-place Landaluce finisher Treadmill flattered The Golden Noodle by winning the CTBA in her next start, while improving her Beyer Speed Figure by 11 points. But the concern about The Golden Noodle's win in the Landaluce is that her closing charge was assisted by the fast early pace in that race.

Continued progress from Treadmill would make her a prime contender.

Set Play finished third behind The Golden Noodle and Treadmill in the Landaluce, then was second behind Tasha's Miracle in the Sorrento, and figures in the picture. So does Foxy Danseur, who was third in the Sorrento. Factor in the impressive maiden special wins by Spring Awakening, Ididn'tmeanto, Comical Vacation, Magic Myth, and Izarra last time out and handicapping the race becomes that much more complicated.

The best advice I can give concerning the right way to bet the Debutante is to insist on an attractive price on whichever filly you choose to bet to win or key in the exotics.