09/26/2007 11:00PM

Wait a While if dry, Royal Highness if not

EmailELMONT, N.Y. - Six graded stakes make for compelling theater at Belmont Park, where at least one thing about the weekend is clear: It's a good thing this isn't like sitting down at a blackjack table and having to play every hand.

Sunday's "Win and You're In" extravaganza will be fun to watch, but Saturday's Kelso and Flower Bowl are the better betting races.

Flower Bowl

The key issue at press time was the weather forecast, which called for rain overnight and into Friday morning. The amount of rainfall may be the deciding factor if the choice is between Wait a While, who is at her best on firm turf, or Royal Highness, who won the Beverly D. on a course that was on the yielding side of good. Wait a While returned to top form in the Ballston Spa, when she flew home her last sixteenth of a mile in 5.77 seconds over parched Saratoga turf and narrowly missed the course record for 1 1/16 miles.

She is on a form pattern virtually identical to the one that produced her Yellow Ribbon win last fall. It's noteworthy her two Grade 1 wins came at Santa Anita and Hollywood, where the turf courses are as firm as billiard tables.

The more it rains, the more the edge shifts to Royal Highness, who was a close second in the prestigious Prix Vermeille on good-soft ground at 3.

In the Beverly D., she produced a breakthrough effort to beat Irridescence - a world-class mare who beat Ouija Board in the Queen Elizabeth Cup in Hong Kong, and who has also won stakes in Europe, Dubai and South Africa.

"The turf was soft in the Beverly D., so we wanted to make sure to take her back," said trainer Christophe Clement of Royal Highness, who is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup. "Our goal has been the Flower Bowl, and then we'll go from there."


This is a good spot to try to beat morning-line favorite After Market, who is on a four-race winning streak and shoulders top weight. After Market was good enough to win the Lexington and Hall of Fame Stakes in New York at age 3, but has risen to national prominence in California this year. However, After Market kicked off 2007 with two off-the-board performances at one mile and is cutting back to that distance after beating up on questionable opposition. His most important scores came against a past-his-prime Lava Man in the Charlie Whittingham, and against Out of Control, a Grade 2 winner, and Rob Roy, who is 3-for-14 lifetime, in the Eddie Read.

The Kelso pace figures to be legitimate due to the presence of Jet Propulsion, who led to midstretch of the Poker three back, and English Colony, who is up in class and distance after four straight wins in turf sprints, capped by a scintillating seven furlongs in 1:20.13 on this course – just a hair off the record of 1:19.88.

"Before the last race I didn't think he could go a mile," said trainer Angel Penna Jr. "But after the way he won going seven furlongs, I think a mile will be okay for him."

A too-fast pace can set the table for Icy Atlantic, who comes off a course-record win in the Red Bank, but like his stablemate Wait a While he really wants it firm. The pace scenario could also favor Palace Episode – a Group 1 winner in Europe earlier in his career on heavy ground - who steps up off a third-level allowance win for the connections of 2006 Kelso winner Ashkal Way.

All big names have issues

In Sunday's $400,000 guaranteed all-Grade 1 pick four on the Vosburgh, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, Beldame, and Jockey Club Gold Cup, the most popular combinations will look like this:

Discreet Cat/English Channel/Balance, Ginger Punch/Curlin, Lawyer Ron. Boy, where else can you buy into so much potential trouble for a mere four bucks?

Consider that Discreet Cat hasn't been out in 10 months since failing to raise a gallop in the Dubai World Cup, after which he was found to have a throat abscess. He hasn't raced at six furlongs since his 2-year-old debut.

English Channel won a weak Joe Hirsch Turf Classic last year, but this year's field is weaker still, so he may put up a successful defense even though he was thoroughly undressed by 15-1 shot Grand Couturier in the Sword Dancer.

Balance was a Grade 1 winner when last on conventional dirt back in March, but over the summer she lost three straight to Nashoba's Key - a filly who is 6 for 6 on turf, Polytrack, and Cushion Track but who has never raced on conventional dirt.

Ginger Punch had to work much harder than expected to get the job done in the Ruffian at just under 4-5, with a figure several lengths below her mid-summer form.

Curlin has raced once in 113 days – a flat third in the Haskell at odds-on - and is merely prepping for Breeders' Cup Classic.

Lawyer Ron is coming off paired Beyer Speed Figure tops (see Grasshopper in last week's Super Derby) at his best distance of 1o1/8 miles, and was up the track in both previous starts at Sunday's trip. Good luck with that ticket.