09/05/2008 12:00AM

Spring Waltz can beat favorite


NEW YORK - Saturday's Grade 1 stakes doubleheader at Belmont Park, consisting of the Ruffian Handicap and Garden City Stakes, as well as the Grade 3 Endine Stakes at Delaware Park are expected to be impacted by heavy, windswept rains from Tropical Storm Hanna. Arlington's Grade 3 stakes doubleheader of the Pucker Up and Arlington-Washington Lassie, however, should be run under ideal conditions.

Ruffian Handicap

Indian Blessing's recent Grade 1 romps in the Test and Prioress were the best performances of her career, which says a lot, since she was champion 2-year-old filly last year. She will certainly be at home on the off track she is likely to get. But the fact that Indian Blessing was so shaky in the late stages of all her prior attempts beyond sprinting, even those she won, combined with this being her first start against older opponents, some of whom are very capable going long, makes me want to play against her with Spring Waltz.

I'm not going to hold Spring Waltz's fourth most recently in the Delaware Handicap against her. She was coming off a four-month layoff and ran into a hot Hystericalady, who followed her win in that race with a runaway win in the Molly Pitcher, and an improved Lemon Drop Mom, who after finishing second came back to run champion Ginger Punch to a tight photo in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign. Spring Waltz recorded two huge wins last winter at Gulfstream, and I anticipate a return to that form, which at this distance, would be good enough.

Endine Stakes

Elope might be making a big class jump on paper, going from an entry-level allowance race to a graded stakes. And she might be at a disadvantage having raced only twice and now going against some tough and vastly more seasoned opponents. But Elope was so impressive winning her comeback at Saratoga that she's the play.

Elope, who won her debut last fall at Turfway, won at Saratoga by almost 12 lengths with plenty left in the tank, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 100, which is the best last-out Beyer in this field. Yet, perhaps the most impressive aspect to Elope's comeback was the move she made to take control on the far turn. Using the incremental splits feature found in DRF's Formulator, Elope ran her second quarter at Saratoga in 22.67 seconds, which is extremely impressive when you consider much of that was around a turn. Elope proved last time out that she's fast enough to win this race. But that incremental split also suggests she is good enough to handle the kind of much tougher pace scenarios found in better races.

Pucker Up Stakes

There is a fair amount of pace in this race, which should make late runners Bel Air Sizzle and Closeout tough. Bel Air Sizzle, second last time out in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks, comes out of the better race. But I prefer Closeout, given how well she ran most recently after a tough trip in Saratoga's Madam Jumel Stakes.

Closeout, who went to Saratoga with victories in three of her first five starts, was steadied nearing the first turn and again on the first turn in the Madam Jumel. She was also caught three wide on the first turn, five wide on the far turn, and six wide into the stretch. Still, she was beaten only by the Grade 1 winner Ariege, who is a strong contender in Saturday's Garden City, whether it is run on turf or dirt.