04/28/2011 4:49PM

Weekend Warrior for April 30, 2011


The Saturday before the Kentucky Derby is a relatively quiet one in terms of the national stakes schedule with five Grade 3 races to be decided. The richest of this quintet is the $200,000 The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial, the feature on the first card of the spring/summer meet at Churchill Downs. The Derby Trial, which will be run for the first time at night, appears to be a trial for the Derby in name only. Although with the way Derby hopefuls have been defecting in recent days and considering how Derby fever makes some owners do wacky things, you never want to say never.

The four other Grade 3 races Saturday are the $125,000 Miami Mile at Calder Race Course, the $100,000 San Francisco Mile at Golden Gate Fields, the $100,000 Wilshire Handicap at Hollywood Park, and the $100,000 Westchester Stakes at Belmont Park. The Westchester, the headliner on the first Saturday card of Belmont’s spring/summer meet, attracted only six. But one of them is Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Haynesfield, who by default might be the top older male in the country even though this will mark his first start of 2011.

The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial

Travelin Man is clearly a talented racehorse. He galloped in his debut early this year at Gulfstream, earning an impressive Beyer Figure of 106, and he cruised most recently in his third start in the Swale Stakes, this time receiving a 100 Beyer. Travelin Man’s two triple digit Beyers are precisely two more than the rest of this Derby Trial field combined.

And yet, even though Travelin Man might well be simply far better than the rest of the Derby Trial field, I’m going to try and beat him. Travelin Man got a very easy trip in the Swale, prompting a downright slow pace before taking over. I never like taking horses coming off easy-trip wins at short prices. And maybe they will prove to be no obstacles for Travelin Man on Saturday night, but he will be going as far as a mile for the first time, and he does have a speed horse in Duca breaking immediately to his inside.

J J’s Lucky Train, a likeable colt who is as tough as nails, is a prime player here. J J’s Lucky Train won the Miracle Wood Stakes two starts back over Bandbox, who came back to win the Private Terms Stakes with a 92 Beyer. Last time out, J J’s Lucky Train came from farther back than he is accustomed to win the Bay Shore Stakes, beating, among others, Justin Philip, who earned a 93 Beyer in his third-place finish in last week’s Jerome. But while J J’s Lucky Train can get a middle distance, I have a suspicion that at this level of competition, he might be better going shorter.

Indian Winter is my play. There was a time early this year when Indian Winter was a candidate for the Kentucky Derby, but those hopes went off the track when he finished third at 3-5 in the Turf Paradise Derby, a very disappointing effort regardless of how fractious he was at the gate or how rank he was early. But Indian Winter did turn in a better performance most recently in the Santa Anita Derby, finishing a creditable sixth after being extremely rank early.

I think the key for Indian Winter is the cut back to one turn. Indian Winter ran well in his first three starts around one turn, winning his debut over eventual Grade 1 Norfolk winner Jaycito, finishing a rallying third in the Del Mar Futurity, and winning the San Pedro Stakes early this year off a four-month layoff. Plus, the cut back to one turn might address Indian Winter’s rankness issues. The faster early fractions in a race like this can allow him to naturally drop off the pace where he wants to be.

Miami Mile Handicap

The field in this one is a strange mix, and no entrant raises more eyebrows than Jackson Bend. Jackson Bend ran well in the Gulfstream Park Handicap and Skip Away Stakes in his first two starts this year, signaling he is not far from the form that enabled him to finish a close third in last year’s Preakness. But despite his recent resurgence on dirt, Jackson Bend would be making his turf bow here with a pedigree that doesn’t exactly shout turf. It’s almost as if he’s an unofficial main track only. And then there’s Mambo Meister, who just got up to win this race last year, but who hasn’t raced in four months.

Voodoo Swinge won’t be much of a price at all, but he is a must use on top. Voodoo Swinge is a 5-year-old who has made only seven career starts, so he has had his problems. But it is an excellent sign that he is able to put three starts relatively close together. It’s also important that Voodoo Swinge’s first two starts this year were his best efforts to date, the most recent being a fast closing, narrowly beaten third in the Tampa Bay Stakes after having to go four wide on the far turn.

I’m going to try and get Feels All Right up for second. Feels All Right was tons the best winning a starter allowance last time out in his first start off the claim by a high-percentage barn, covering his last three-eighths in a fast 34.77 seconds.

Wilshire Handicap

Well Monied was close to the likes of the late Tuscan Evening, who won eight graded stakes in her career, and Eclipse Award winner Forever Together in the Grade 1 Gamely last year. But even though she runs well fresh, if you opt not to buy unto Well Monied because she has not started in 11 months, then you might agree that this race just cries out for a new face. And they don’t get much newer than Vamo a Galupiar, who makes her U.S. debut here.

Vamo a Galupiar was a Group 1 stakes winner in her native Chile, and very nearly won another when she narrowly missed in her country’s 1000 Guineas last September off a four-month layoff. Vamo a Galupiar has a high ceiling, something you can’t say for many of her opponents here, and her placement in a race like this is interesting considering her trainer’s excellent numbers in graded events.