07/23/2003 11:00PM

Weekend offers some class acts


NEW YORK - The first Saturday of the Del Mar and Saratoga meets offer just the kind of outstanding stakes racing that both tracks are legendary for, with each track presenting a stakes doubleheader combining an excellent race for fillies and mares on turf with a top-class main-track sprint. At Saratoga, it is a Grade 1 combination of the $500,000 Diana Handicap on the grass and the $250,000 Test Stakes. At Del Mar, champion Golden Apples returns in the Grade 1, $400,000 John C. Mabee Handicap, while the $200,000 Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap is coming up one of the deepest sprint stakes of the year.

As if to hold up the middle part of the nation, Arlington Park has a stakes tripleheader Saturday, comprising the $250,000 Arlington Handicap, which can be used as a stepping-stone to the Aug. 16 Arlington Million, the $150,000 Modesty Handicap, a local springboard to the Beverly D. on Arlington Million Day, and the $100,000 Round Table.

Here are my three featured stakes:

Bing Crosby

This race is so strong and deep that it would be no surprise if several of the entrants here meet again at Santa Anita on Oct. 25 in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. That said, Captain Squire is still a strong play.

Captain Squire turned in one of the best sprint performances of the year when he won the Sunshine Millions Sprint in January. Although that race was a restricted event, it attracted a solid field, and Captain Squire humiliated his opponents, scoring by a widening 5 1/2 lengths to earn a flashy Beyer Speed Figure of 117.

Captain Squire's only start since the came in Dubai in the Dubai Golden Shaheen, and he acquitted himself well in finishing third. The fact that Captain Squire's last race came in Dubai is not a concern. While the vast majority of horses who travel to the Dubai World Cup lose their form on their return here, the same is not true for sprinters, or turf horses. Besides, Captain Squire has been given plenty of time to recover from that trip, he won the Sunshine Millions Sprint off an even longer layoff, and he is backed by the barn of Jeff Mullins, who is batting .320 on the year.


The Diana didn't come up with as strong a field as the Mabee. But unlike the Mabee, which is a two- or at most three-horse betting race, there are a few ways to go in the Diana.

Voodoo Dancer is a legitimate favorite off her recent win in the Beverly Hills, and were it not for a wide trip, she would have won this race last year. But I like Heat Haze better.

Heat Haze turned in a monster performance winning the Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard to make it 3 for 3 in this country. She has not raced since, but layoffs like this are no obstacle to trainer Bobby Frankel. Heat Haze will also be going as far as 1 1/8 miles for the first time, but any horse who can go her last quarter in a freakish 22 seconds flat, as Heat Haze did at Churchill, should handle this stretch-out.

Pertuisane, who is coupled with Heat Haze because Frankel also owns part of her, is a capable backup. Pertuisane posted an impressive come-home time of her own when she finished second last time out in the New York Handicap.


There is no doubt trainer Nick Zito would love to win the Test with Bird Town for the filly's owner and breeder, Saratoga socialite Marylou Whitney. At the same time, Zito wouldn't be human if he wasn't looking a little beyond the Test to Bird Town's other goal of the Saratoga meet, the richer and more prestigious Alabama Stakes.

On the other hand, Lady Tak, with some apparent distance limitations, doesn't have her connections looking beyond this sprint. So she is the pick to reverse the outcome of the Acorn Stakes, in which Lady Tak missed by a head to Bird Town.

A case can be made that Lady Tak ran a better race in the Acorn than Bird Town, anyway. She was shuffled back along the inside down the backstretch, and then had to take a wider path than her rival. With it all, Lady Tak was getting to Bird Town at the finish.