07/24/2008 12:00AM

Steve's Double ready for peak effort


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In a couple of weeks, some of the nation's top turf horses - and likely a sampling of some of Europe's best - will contest the Arlington Million.

Saturday's $150,000 Sea o'Erin Handicap at Arlington Park is by no means on that level, but what it lacks in star power, it makes up with competitiveness. And it also provides an opportunity to back an underrated turf horse at a square price.

That horse is Steve's Double, a 5-1 morning-line shot who has made just one start on the turf. But what a nice race it was - racing over a yielding course in the Grade 2 Firecracker at Churchill Downs on July 4, he stalked the pace and ran an even third, beaten 1 1/2 lengths by victorious Thorn Song.

Besides his third-place finish, there were other things to like about his race. Breaking from the outside post, he raced widest of all from start to finish and kicked on strongly through the stretch, with heavily favored Einstein - one of the nation's top grass horses - only edging him by a half-length for second place.

Even if Einstein was not at his best going a mile, to lose by 1 1/2 lengths to multiple graded winner Thorn Song, a horse that loves give in the ground, is a powerful effort.

Putting aside Steve's Double's race in the Firecracker, there are other reasons to like him in the Sea o'Erin, not the least of which is the fact that he is an honest, versatile horse. This is a horse that won the Grade 3 Perryville over Polytrack last fall at Keeneland and the Tenacious Handicap over a traditional dirt track at Fair Grounds in December.

Now in the third start of his current form cycle, he looks ready for a peak effort. Well drawn in post 4 with a short run to the turn, he should be able to work out a favorable trip under Miguel Mena.

Solar Flare deserves another shot

Commentator is the headliner of the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga on Saturday, but deciphering the last-race effort of Solar Flare is the key to betting the race.

Racing in the Grade 1 Suburban, a race that seemingly lacked the depth and quality of the Whitney, he appeared comfortably on his way to victory leaving the final turn. Surging to the lead under confident handling by jockey Gabriel Saez, he looked ready to pull clear in the stretch.

Instead, 40-1 longshot Frost Giant - who was under an early drive - came back to beat him in the final furlong, edging Solar Flare by a half-length in the 1 1/4-mile race.

I imagine some will not wish to play Solar Flare back in the Whitney, reasoning that he showed questionable fight in the Suburban and is now faced with the prospect of having to catch millionaire Commentator, who is 3 for 5 at the Spa.

I am going to be forgiving of him hanging in the late stages of the Suburban. This is a horse that has started just twice in the United States since being imported from Argentina. And even if the Suburban was a softer-than-normal Grade 1 test, it still represented a dramatic step up in class for him off a third-level allowance win at Delaware Park on June 3.

Solar Flare has a right to show improved staying power as he gains experience and is the choice to upset Commentator and company in the Whitney.

Mama I'm Home set for rebound

Another quality value play looms at Ellis Park on Saturday in the HBPA Handicap, provided Mama I'm Home stays close to her morning-line price of 5-1.

Dropping in class from the Grade 3 Mint Julep Handicap at Churchill Downs, she should appreciate the easier field she faces in the HBPA, although the race drew a good group by $50,000 stakes standards. However, there is no horse like Dreaming of Anna - the Mint Julep winner - in the HBPA.

What is in the HBPA is an abundance of speed, which should benefit the late-running Mama I'm Home, who won an allowance in fast time at Keeneland in April before losing her last two stakes starts.

She was beaten without much of an excuse in her latest, but that was not true of her race two starts ago when ninth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths, in the Reluctant Guest Stakes at Arlington.

No exaggeration - she was blocked in traffic from the first turn to the finish line in the latter race. Although it was difficult to determine how strongly she would have finished had she found room, she gave the appearance of a filly that could have at least challenged with a clean trip.

Look for her to return to the winning form she showed at Keeneland in the spring in Saturday's HBPA.