02/23/2009 12:00AM

Tiz a Blend dangerous on return to turf

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NEW YORK - There are only two graded races on the national stakes schedule Saturday, but aside from both being Grade 2 events worth $150,000, they couldn't be more different, right down to their being decided on opposite ends of the country. The Mac Diarmida Stakes at Gulfstream Park will be run at 1 3/8 miles on the turf, while the San Carlos Handicap at Santa Anita is at seven furlongs on the synthetic Pro-Ride.

Valentine Dancer Handicap

This supporting feature at Santa Anita, for California-bred fillies and mares on the turf, is very appealing from a betting standpoint, for two reasons: The one in here in the best form, Christiana's Heat, is a vulnerable potential favorite as she much prefers finishing second to winning. And there is an abundance of early speed in here, including a few stretch-out sprinters, which makes it very likely that this race will be won from off the pace.

Tiz a Blend fits the profile of the likely winner to a T, which should come as no surprise since she came from off the pace to win this race decisively last year. Now, it could be argued that Tiz a Blend was in much better form when she won this race last year. But I think her two recent efforts off an eight month absence, one mediocre and one awful, should be taken with a grain of salt. Both came on synthetic tracks, and Tiz a Blend now moves to turf, which is by far her preferred footing, for a barn that is incredibly successful with such surface switches, all while being primed for her third start off the layoff.

Swiss Diva should be included in the exotics. True, she hasn't raced in a year. But Swiss Diva has fired fresh in the past, she has back races that are plenty good enough to contend, and she now goes for a hot barn that is not only successful with newcomers but also very successful with horses off extended layoffs.

Valdale Stakes

Tacky Cat might have been a maiden going into the Cincinnati Trophy Stakes last time out, but after winning by six lengths, she came out of that race as perhaps the best 3-year-old filly on the grounds at Turfway Park. Indeed, the Beyer Speed Figures Tacky Cat earned in her last two starts are as good or better than anything any other entrant in this headliner at Turfway has ever earned. But while Tacky Cat deserves to be the favorite here, she will also be attempting two turns for the first time. And as Harvey Pack is so fond of saying, it's never a good idea to take a horse as the favorite trying something for the first time.

I like Super Poni, who ran well at this distance over this track in her last two starts. The first of those was an easy win, but it was her third against males most recently that is especially intriguing. Beyond facing males, Super Poni's closing style was compromised that day as Music City got loose on an unchallenged lead and won easily. Runner-up Parade Clown was similarly compromised, and he came back to turn the tables on Music City in the WEBN Stakes, earning a 90 Beyer. And it's not like there was nothing behind Super Poni that day, either, as two males who finished behind her were coming off decent maiden wins.

Turf Paradise Derby

The Santa Anita-based, Bob Baffert-trained Mayor Marv will be the strong favorite off his maiden win last time out; his second two starts back to Papa Clem, who came back to finish second to Pioneerof the Nile in the Robert Lewis; and his second three starts back to The Pamplemousse, who came back to win the San Rafael. While it would certainly be no surprise if Mayor Marv wins this race, the price will be unappealing on a horse who walked on an easy lead in his maiden win, and who has a lot of seconds on his record.

Even though he's a maiden, I'm going with the other Santa Anita shipper, Pauper's Prize. Pauper's Prize ran well finishing second sprinting last month in his first two career starts, which is to his credit because he is not bred to be at his best going only sprint distances. He should love the added distance this race affords, which means he could take a big step forward.

Let's add a couple of quick picks:

San Carlos Handicap: Georgie Boy won't get the kind of hot pace that helped him win the Sunshine Millions Sprint last time out. In fact, there is no speed in here at all. That's why I like Past the Point. At least he has some route speed, and in seven-furlong sprints like this, I like horses such as Past the Point who are cutting back from middle distances.

Mac Diarmida: Spice Route is the play. Despite going a distance shorter than he prefers, he got up in the Tropical Turf Handicap most recently over Soldier's Dancer, who came back to win the Sunshine Millions Turf. He should be even more effective with the added ground he gets here.