03/31/2011 3:30PM

Weekend Warrior for April 2


Sunday is the big day this weekend stakes-wise, thanks to a strong edition of the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Saturday’s stakes schedule has some appeal, however, with Gulfstream also commanding center stage with two graded stakes – the Grade 2, $300,000 Gulfstream Oaks, and the Grade 3, $150,000 Rampart.

Other stakes of note Saturday include the Grade 3, $100,000 Las Flores at Santa Anita, the Grade 3, $100,000 Excelsior at Aqueduct, and the $100,000 Debut Stakes, the opening day feature at Woodbine.

Rampart Stakes

Although some of Saturday’s stakes are interesting from an aesthetic standpoint, the pickings are slim from a handicapping standpoint. This race is a good example of both. Unrivaled Belle, winner of last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic and whose 2010 campaign would have been good enough for a divisional championship in almost any other year that didn’t include Zenyatta, makes her 2011 bow here. That is entertaining stuff. But while Unrivaled Belle, who won this race last year, can certainly win it again purely on class, now might be the best time to tip her over. After all, she is coming off a five-month layoff, and she is using this race as a springboard to next month’s La Troienne, which will be run over the same Churchill Downs main track on which she managed her big Breeders’ Cup score.

The thing is, when you go hunting for alternatives to Unrivaled Belle here, it is hard to get past the obvious one. That is Awesome Maria, who is my pick even though she’s going to be a strong second choice in the betting and not much of a price. Awesome Maria was lights out when she won the Sabin Stakes over the track in her first start this year. She ran away with that race, looking very much like the special filly she threatened to be after a most promising 2-year-old campaign in 2009 that saw her win the Matron and narrowly lose the Frizette.

As for the Gulfstream Oaks, it takes more imagination than I have to think it won’t be a two-horse race between R Heat Lighting and the undefeated Aqueduct inner track stakes winner It’s Tricky. I prefer R Heat Lightning, who crushed far better company winning the Davona Dale over the track most recently than It’s Tricky has faced to date.

Debut Stakes

Don’s Folly has a lot going for him in this spot. He was a rallying second in this race last year off an eight-month layoff, and this time he comes into this race off a layoff half as long, and off a win last November over the same track he runs on Saturday. That win was as good as any of his 2010 performances. Don’s Folly also boasts a best-of-111 workout last Sunday for his return. And on top of everything else, there is an abundance of early speed horses and pace pressers in this race, which sets up Don’s Folly’s late run very nicely.

Of course, none of this will be lost on the betting public, meaning that Don’s Folly will certainly be well bet Saturday. Although much looks to be in Don’s Folly’s favor on paper, he still must get at least a decent trip to get up in time. He faces a big field, and with only five furlongs to work with, there is no guarantee that Don’s Folly will get an ideal trip. So when you combine that with the prospect of unappealing odds, it does leave the door open to looking elsewhere.

I’m going with The Boy’s Ring. The Boy’s Ring was beaten by Don’s Folly in an overnight race in late November. But it is interesting to note that The Boy’s Ring was favored over Don’s Folly that day, mainly because The Boy’s Ring had won his prior two starts with blinkers on after a three-month break. In other words, it looked like The Boy’s Ring was ready to deliver on the promise he offered early in his career. Being relatively lightly raced, The Boy’s Ring is still capable of fulfilling his potential. He also has the ability to win from off the pace. However, The Boy’s Ring has more positional speed than Don’s Folly has. That suggests The Boy’s Ring could get first run, which could prove to be a significant advantage Saturday.

Las Flores Stakes

Broken Dreams is switching from turf to dirt in this race. I’m hoping that enough folks will think twice about her surface switch to keep her odds above the acceptable line because she is my play.

Broken Dreams has won on dirt. But that score came in her debut a year ago in a maiden claimer in the slop at Tampa Bay Downs. The only other start Broken Dreams made on dirt came two starts ago, and was an eighth in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint. But that actually wasn’t a bad effort. Broken Dreams was checked just after the start and trailed in the early running, yet was beaten only four lengths for all the money. On turf, however, Broken Dreams is a known commodity, and a good one, too. In grass sprint stakes last time out and three starts back, she finished a close second to Unzip Me, one of the best female turf sprinters in the country, a winner of nine of her last 11 starts, and who finished third in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. It is that class analysis that makes Broken Dreams so appealing here, because according to comparative ability, no one in this race is as remotely good as Unzip Me.

In any event, there are other reasons why Broken Dreams can be expected to successfully switch to dirt. She has turned in several excellent workouts over the same Santa Anita dirt track she will run on Saturday, and she hails from a Tom Proctor barn that clicks with a high percentage of starters going from turf to dirt.