09/05/2007 11:00PM

Sunriver thrives on firm turf

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NEW YORK - Belmont Park shows why its new meet has also long been known as the "Fall Championship Meet" when the track hosts three Grade 1 races on Saturday.

Arlington also offers a stakes tripleheader, led by the Grade 3, $200,000 Pucker Up, while Delaware Park has a rich stakes event on its card, the Grade 3, $200,000 Endine.

Man o' War

Although it attracted a field of only seven, this is a competitive event. There are several horses bettors could choose, such as the intriguing Aidan O'Brien newcomer Yellowstone, and a pair of recent Grade 1 winners in Shamdinan and Grand Couturier, which means there is a reasonable chance to secure betting value. I hope that's the case, because I prefer Sunriver.

Sunriver comes into this off a close fourth in the Arlington Million after setting what has been characterized as a slow pace. I don't care how slow Sunriver's fractions were, the going at Arlington on Million Day was deep, and speed horses had a losing uphill struggle in the three big stakes there that afternoon. So it is actually to Sunriver's credit that he was beaten only a length in the Million. Rain has been absent in the New York metropolitan area for weeks, and Sunriver is going to get the kind of hard going he had when he won the Bowling Green Handicap at this distance two starts back. Sunriver also figures to be in complete control of the pace.

Endine

G City Gal has some higher Beyer Speed Figures showing than Sheets does, which is why she will likely be the favorite in this race. But after three starts this year, G City Gal hasn't been able to run as fast as she did in the past, while Sheets has the look of an improving filly whose best races might still be in front of her. This makes Sheets a good play to beat G City Gal on Saturday.

Sheets has really come around since moving to conventional dirt surfaces three starts ago. She won a quickly run allowance race at Churchill Downs, and followed with the best performance of her career, a going -away score in the Azalea Breeders' Cup on Calder's Summit of Speed Day. Notably, G City Gal also ran on that card and finished third in the slightly slower-run Princess Rooney Handicap. In fairness, it should be noted that rain between the Azalea and Princess Rooney changed the speed of Calder's main track that day, but Sheets still earned a higher Beyer Figure for her victory than G City Gal did for her effort. In any event, Sheets was fourth most recently in the Grade 1 Test Stakes, refusing to cave in when the very talented Dream Rush took the track from her early. The form of the Test got a big boost when Baroness Thatcher came back to narrowly miss against older opponents in the Grade 1 Ballerina. Sheets figures to benefit from the cut back to six furlongs, as well as the good outside stalking trip she projects to get.

Arlington-Washington Lassie

Going a one-turn mile on Polytrack might be more than many of these juvenile fillies are ready to do. So I want a horse with a certain type of foundation, and Pretty Persuasion, who should be a good price, fits the bill.

Pretty Persuasion has raced only once, but her successful debut came going two turns on turf. I like horses cutting back from two turns in extended one-turn races where stamina is an issue, such as this event. The surface switch is not a big concern because there are many examples of horses with good turf form successfully transferring that form to synthetic surfaces, and Pretty Persuasion's barn has outstanding numbers with horses making just such a switch. While Pretty Persuasion didn't run especially fast winning her debut, she could be fast enough to win this with normal improvement from her first to second start.