07/14/2010 6:23PM

Triple Bend pace may boost M One Rifle


NEW YORK – The sort of intense heat and humidity that has affected the Eastern Seaboard this week is usually broken by big time thunderstorms. Unfortunately, those storms are forecasted to arrive Saturday. This means races like the Grade 1, $600,000 Man o’ War Stakes scheduled for the turf at Belmont Park, in which champion Gio Ponti seeks to get back on the winning track, and the Grade 2, $250,000 Delaware Oaks, which has attracted current 3-year-old filly division leader Blind Luck, could be adversely impacted by the weather.

In South Florida, where the Grade 1, $350,000 Princess Rooney Handicap and the Grade 2, $350,000 Smile Sprint Handicap top the Summit of Speed card at Calder Race Course, there is only the daily chance of storms found there this time of year. But in Southern California, the conditions will perfect for the Grade 1 stakes doubleheader at Hollywood Park comprising the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup, headed by high-class handicapper Rail Trip, and the $250,000 Triple Bend Handicap.

Triple Bend Handicap

Gayego, a strong second choice in the betting in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint and who, even though he finished fourth, was beaten only a neck in that race, makes his U.S. return in this spot. And if he returns the way he returned to this country last year, he will be tough to beat. Gayego won a solid overnight race in his 2009 U.S. bow and then showed a tremendous late kick to win the Grade 1 Ancient Title, the race that made him such a big threat going into the Breeders’ Cup. But it is by no means a sure thing that Gayego is in the same form now that he was in prior to his U.S. return last year. His two outings in Dubai earlier this season were simply not as good as his two corresponding Dubai races in early 2009, either in terms of finish position or Racing Post ratings. Gayego might still be good enough to win this race, but at unappealing odds, the inclination is to look elsewhere.

For a sprint stakes in California, there is a surprising lack of early speed in here. That makes M One Rifle, who must really be on his toes after working three furlongs Wednesday in a rapid 33.60 seconds, perfectly positioned to capitalize. M One Rifle finished behind two rivals he faces again Saturday when fourth last time out in the Los Angeles Handicap, but that was after he dueled early with race winner Cost of Freedom, who is formidable when healthy. This time, there is no one with Cost of Freedom’s lick to compromise M One Rifle early. Moreover, M One Rifle stretches back out to what might be his favorite distance, the distance at which he won the Grade 1 Malibu three starts back. The Malibu has since proven to be a very productive race as behind M One Rifle that day were the subsequent winners of the Santa Anita Handicap, the San Fernando, the Strub, and the Texas Mile.

Princess Rooney Handicap

Warbling comes into this off the worst finish of her career – a fifth in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff on the Kentucky Derby undercard – but there is a big reason to forgive that performance. And if you can draw a line through Warbling’s last, then her prior form is plenty good enough to make her a solid play here.

It was very much a tale of two sloppy main tracks at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day. In the main track race before the Derby, the Churchill Downs Stakes, and in the Derby itself, the rail suddenly became a good place to be, and jockey Calvin Borel pounced, winning both races with Atta Boy Roy and Super Saver, respectively. But before those races, the rail was dead and outside paths had a distinct advantage. This pertains here because before fading to finish fifth, Warbling dueled for the early lead in the Humana Distaff on the rail, against the bias. Notably, the mare who dueled with Warbling in the two path, Dubai Majesty (who also is in this race), tired to finish ninth but came back to validate the bias by romping in the Winning Colors.

Prior to the Humana Distaff, Warbling turned in perhaps the best sprint performance by an older female so far this season when she ran off with the Inside Information Stakes. Warbling made all the pace in the Inside Information, but she is equally adept coming from off the pace, an asset that might serve her well Saturday.

Smile Sprint Handicap

Go Go Shoot has a right to improve second time out this year and has back races that would whip this field, but I wonder how much starch Rusty Charlie might take out of him early. Taqarub beat the subsequent winner of last Monday’s Mr. Prospector Stakes when he won the Maryland Sprint Handicap last time, but he faces much more pace pressure this time. Snapshot was a fine second most recently in the True North, but he’s marooned in the 13 hole. Congressional Page really had the Decathlon Stakes fall in his lap last time out, and Mambo Meister, while in career form, has never raced less than one mile in 28 career starts.

Big Drama isn’t perfect, either, but he is still worth a play. Big Drama beat only three limited opponents when he won his comeback, but he did it the right way. And he has every license to take a big step forward, because he showed real quality last year finishing first in a strong Swale Stakes, a creditable fifth in the Preakness, and second in a West Virginia Derby he lost only because of an ill-judged ride.