04/21/2011 3:54PM

Weekend Warrior for April 23, 2011


NEW YORK – It seems as though the 3-year-olds have commanded center stage on every weekend in, like, forever. But even though all the major Kentucky Derby preps are now behind us, that doesn’t mean this division is willing to relinquish the spotlight until Derby Day in two weeks. In fact, arguably the two most interesting stakes in the nation Saturday are for – who else? – 3-year-olds. They are the Grade 3, $200,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, a race that might produce a starter for the Derby, and the Grade 3, $150,000 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, a race that could produce a candidate or two for the Preakness.

The Lexington heads a stakes tripleheader at Keeneland Saturday. The undercard events there are the Grade 3, $150,000 Ben Ali Stakes, and the $100,000 Giant’s Causeway Stakes. The Ben Ali drew a field of only five, and the same plight befell the only other graded stakes in the nation Saturday, the Grade 3, $200,000 Texas Mile at Lone Star.

Saturday is also California Gold Rush Day at Hollywood Park, where the $150,000 Snow Chief (for 3-year-olds, of course), heads a card packed with California bred stakes events.

Coolmore Lexington Stakes

Silver Medallion is, without question, the horse to beat. His last two performances are simply better than anything his five opponents Saturday can counter with. Silver Medallion announced himself a prominent Kentucky Derby candidate two starts back in February with a decisive victory in the El Camino Real Derby, notably over a synthetic racing surface. Silver Medallion, of course, goes on Polytrack Saturday. He did not start for two months after that, but only because he was up for sale and his connections understandably did not want to risk racing him with potential deals to consider.

A majority interest in Silver Medallion eventually was sold, and he returned most recently in the Santa Anita Derby, a very tough race to win off a two-month layoff. Indeed, Silver Medallion ran like a short horse. But even though he was beaten, he was game all the way and far from disgraced, finishing fourth, beaten a little more than three lengths for all the money.

But money, specifically graded earnings, is why Silver Medallion is running Saturday. This race was never on Silver Medallion’s schedule, but it became a necessity if he is to secure a starting berth in the Kentucky Derby as he is currently short of sufficient graded earnings. This raises some issues. Although Silver Medallion is the best horse in the Lexington, he is now wheeling back in two short weeks after a draining effort in the Santa Anita Derby. I wonder if he has had enough recovery time to deliver a representative performance.

Casper’s Touch would be one of the logical alternatives to Silver Medallion, but I’m taking a stand against him, too. Yes, Casper’s Touch had an eventful trip when second two starts back to Shackleford, who later was beaten just a head in the Florida Derby by Kentucky Derby favorite Dialed In. It is also true that Casper’s Touch sports a nice last out win over the track earlier in the Keeneland meet. But despite his trouble, Casper’s Touch never seemed a match for Shackleford, and he beat suspect opposition in his recent win.

I like Prime Cut. Prime Cut showed dramatic improvement in his win last time out at Fair Grounds. He was up against Bind, who was 1-10 off a huge debut, which he won by 9 1/2 lengths and received a 105 Beyer Figure. But after Bind pressed the pace and then opened a clear lead in the stretch, Prime Cut collared him and simply sailed right on by, earning a 91 Beyer, which bettered his previous best by 15 points.

Jerome Stakes

At first glance, Cal Nation’s nose loss at 1-5 last time out at Gulfstream seemed like a profound disappointment. Cal Nation sat a perfect trip just off a fast early pace, moved to the lead in upper stretch with the rider looking around for opposition, and appeared a lead pipe cinch to win. Instead, Cal Nation succumbed late to the one who set the fast pace and came again late, barn mate Dance City.

Cal Nation’s loss looks different now that Dance City came back to finish third in last Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, beaten less than two lengths in a remarkably game effort considering he finished well ahead of the two others who were involved in the early pace, one of whom was the heavily favored The Factor. But should Cal Nation’s loss look different now? Just because Dance City raised his game last week, and did he ever, that doesn’t necessarily mean Cal Nation’s loss still wasn’t disappointing. I think it was.

I like Rattlesnake Bridge, who was visually impressive winning his debut two starts back, and who then gave it a fine try against Uncle Mo in the Timely Writer last time out. Okay, I know Uncle Mo’s stock has fallen since he was beaten in the Wood Memorial. But at the time of the Timely Writer, Uncle Mo was still the undefeated champion and heavy Derby favorite. The Timely Writer was a tough assignment for a once-raced horse like Rattlesnake Bridge, especially with Uncle Mo controlling the pace. But Rattlesnake Bridge made a very nice run at Uncle Mo, the kind of run that should win him a lot of races.

Tiznow Stakes

Off his wins this year in the Potrero Grande and Sunshine Millions Sprint, Amazombie is one of the better sprinters in the country right now. But the 7 1/2-furlong distance of this undercard stakes at Hollywood might prove to be well out of his comfort zone. And the same could prove to be the case for the graded stakes winner Quick Enough.

Despite his loss in a mid-level claimer most recently, Bestdressed is the play. Bestdressed will be making his first start off the claim for trainer Mike Mitchell, who has crazy numbers in that category. And Bestdressed showed in his win two back that he still has some life left. But most importantly, Bestdressed is moving to his favorite surface. While he is an uninspiring 3 for 33 at other tracks, he is 4 for 16 at Hollywood, and he was also a narrowly beaten second in this race last year.