07/12/2007 11:00PM

Top two in trouble at Delaware


LEXINGTON, Ky. - A colleague asked me on Thursday whether I like Indian Vale or Asi Siempre in Sunday's 1 1/4-mile Delaware Handicap.

He should have known better. You should never ask a contrarian a question like that unless you are discussing a match race. That isn't the case in this Grade 2 event. There are nine fillies and mares in the field, and while Indian Vale and Asi Siempre are both strong contenders, the fact that the question contained only two options suggested to me that it would be a good idea to check out options three through nine in the race before accepting the inevitability of a win by either of the two favorites.

First, the credentials of the favorites. Indian Vale has won 7 of 10 starts, but she has not been invincible lately, as evidenced by two low-odds losses in her last four races. Her best Beyer Speed Figure over the last two years is the 100 she earned last time at Churchill Downs in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis. That's the top last-race number showing in the Delaware Handicap field, but it doesn't stand out by much.

Four of the other runners in this race show Beyers ranging from 95 through 98 last time out. Much of Indian Vale's popularity was earned in 2005 when she won 5 of her 6 six starts by an average margin of more than eight lengths. Her best Beyers from those races were 109, 108, and 104. She might win this race, but she hasn't shown that she is as good now as she was two years ago, so why take a low price that is at least partly based on that old form?

Asi Siempre was within striking distance at the top of the stretch in each of her last two races, the Gradeo2 Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap and the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis, but lacked the late kick needed to win and settled for second both times. Note that Indian Vale is the one who held her off down the stretch last time. There are three wins showing among Asi Siempre's last 10 races. Two were on Polytrack at Keeneland, and the other was on the turf at Saratoga. She has not won a race on dirt from three starts on fast or wet tracks.

After setting those two aside, what are our remaining options?

Ice Cool Kitty is in peak form now with wins in three straight races. She defeated first-level allowance company, $50,000 optional claimers, and New-York bred stakes company by margins ranging from 3 1/2 to 6o3/4 lengths. But the concern is that she might be ready to regress on the class jump after having everything go her way in those softer fields.

Unbridled Belle finished fourth in the Grade 1 Gazelle in her last 2006 start, but beat just two opponents and lost by 10 3/4 lengths. She earned a career-best 95 Beyer when she finished second behind Peak Maria's Way at Delaware Park in the Obeah Handicap in her comeback, and will be dangerous if she takes another step forward second time back.

I like Peak Maria's Way. She loves Delaware Park, where she has 5 wins from 7 starts. She won a $75,000 optional claiming race there decisively, then ran a nice race in her victory in the Obeah Handicap. She dueled for the lead, then pulled clear to win convincingly with a lifetime-best 98 Beyer. Peak Maria's Way is sharp, and might enjoy a better pace scenario today. If she continues to improve she can score a mild upset.

o Last week I wrote about the speed bias during the first two days of racing at Ellis Park and suggested that since it fit the track bias trend most often seen there in recent years, it had a reasonable chance of continuing. That has been the case so far. From July 6 through Thursday, or since the first two days of racing there, 18 of the 32 first-call leaders on the dirt have won.