Updated on 09/15/2011 12:42PM

Top spot beckons to Critical Eye


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Scott Schwartz believes there is a vacancy atop the older filly and mare division that his 4-year-old New York-bred Critical Eye is ready to fill.

Coming off the most prestigious victory of her career in the Grade 1 Hempstead Handicap, Critical Eye looks to make her case for divisional honors in Sunday's $250,000 Go for Wand Handicap at Saratoga. Critical Eye will face eight rivals in the Grade 1 race, including 1999 champion mare Beautiful Pleasure, Grade 1 winners Secret Status and Dreams Gallore, and recent stakes winners March Magic and Serra Lake.

"If she gets the job done again, she's got to be considered one of the best ones in the East, if not the country," said Schwartz, who trains Critical Eye for his father, Herbert, and stepmother, Carol.

Schwartz thinks Critical Eye can get the job done again. After losses in her first three starts this year, she won the Sheepshead Bay Handicap, which was rained off the turf, before rallying to win the Hempstead, the second Grade 1 victory of her career.

Since shipping to Saratoga, Critical Eye has trained well, including a solid five-furlong move in 1:00.40 over the main track on Monday. Critical Eye is 2 for 3 over Saratoga's main track, including an allowance win at the Go for Wand distance of nine furlongs.

"I like two turns better than one turn; it's better for her," Schwartz said. "On this track, it's tough for a [speed] horse to get away going two turns."

Critical Eye would benefit from a solid pace and figures to get one with the presence of Beautiful Pleasure and March Magic in the field.

Beautiful Pleasure made an inauspicious 2001 debut, finishing last in the Hempstead Handicap. She was carrying a lot of extra flesh that day and tired badly in the stretch. Her connections have worked to get the excess weight off, and they feel good about her appearance entering the race.

"Before she was rotund, now she's robust," trainer John Ward said.

Beautiful Pleasure has a record of 3-2-0 in five starts over this track. Her two runner-up finishes came in the Go for Wand in 1999 and 2000, behind Banshee Breeze and Heritage of Gold, respectively. Ward entered Beautiful Pleasure in last week's $600,000 Delaware Handicap, but scratched for this tougher spot.

"She trains good over this racetrack, she likes the surroundings, the weather's good, and if it rains we know we can handle the surface," Ward said. "There's just a row of plusses. The only minus between here and Delaware is the net purse, but you've got to win it to collect."

Ward also said the Go for Wand is more prestigious than the Delaware Handicap, something that may come into play in year-end Eclipse voting.

Beautiful Pleasure, who will break from post 7 under Jorge Chavez and carry top weight of 118 pounds, will be coupled in the wagering with Darling My Darling, who finished fifth in the Hempstead. Ward felt jockey Mike Smith had Darling My Darling too far back in that race and has made a rider switch to John Velazquez. Ward believes that change and the return to two turns should help Darling My Darling, who two starts back won the Doubledogdare at Keeneland around two turns.

Secret Status and March Magic have an upset chance. Secret Status finished second as the odds-on favorite in last year's Alabama over this track and is coming off a second-place finish in the Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Trainer Neil Howard has buckled down on Secret Status in the morning and is hoping it pays off in the afternoon. She will break from post 6 under Pat Day.

"I got a feeling she's going to run back to the old Secret Status in one of these races," Howard said. "She's certainly capable."

March Magic is coming off a three-length victory in the Grade 3 Molly Pitcher Breeders' Cup Handicap at Monmouth Park. She responded to the addition of blinkers in that race and figures to be sitting just off of Beautiful Pleasure in the early stages of the Go for Wand.

Completing the field are Dreams Gallore, winner of the Grade 1 Mother Goose in 1999, Serra Lake, Pompeii, and Wittenberg.