08/09/2012 11:43AM

Weekend Warrior for Aug. 11: Picks for Gardenia Stakes, Monmouth Oaks, and Fourstardave

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Tom Keyser
Juanita's positional speed should be a plus in Saturday's Grade 3 Gardenia Stakes at Ellis Park.

This is the only Saturday between now and Sept. 8 without a Grade 1 stakes on the schedule, but there are a pair of Grade 2 events and two Grade 3 races to be run. The Grade 2 stakes are the $500,000 Fourstardave, scheduled to be run on turf at Saratoga, and the $150,000 La Jolla Handicap on the turf at Del Mar. The Grade 3 races are the $100,000 Gardenia at Ellis Park and the $100,000 Monmouth Oaks.

Gardenia Stakes

Sassy Image and Joyful Victory are the name horses here, but neither has a lock on this race. Sassy Image won two Grade 1 races last year, but even though she was a more competitive second in her most recent start after two ugly efforts, she just doesn’t seem to be anywhere near the horse she used to be. I think it also says something that trainer Dale Romans left Sassy Image behind in Kentucky for the summer while he took his first string to Saratoga.

Joyful Victory won the Tiffany Lass and finished third in the Azeri in her last two starts, earning 95 Beyer Speed Figures in each, which is strong for this field. But she is coming off a five-month layoff and will be going a one-mile distance that might be a little short of her best. And though her connections (she is trained by Larry Jones) remained in Kentucky this summer by choice, I do find it slightly curious that Joyful Victory didn’t hit the road for bigger, richer races, such as the Molly Pitcher.

Speaking of Beyers, Absinthe Minded popped Beyers of 92 or higher in stakes at Oaklawn in her first four starts this year and would be a handful with one of those efforts. But sound defeats in her last three suggest she is well below her Oaklawn form.

I have this race down to Juanita and Salty Strike, and I’m going with Juanita. Juanita was crushed last time out in the Ogden Phipps, but that was a Grade 1 race against much better. This is a significantly easier spot, and her prior two performances were good. Three starts back, Juanita was a game second to Horse of the Year Havre de Grace in the New Orleans Ladies, and two starts back, she was a decisive, if surprising, winner of the La Trioenne on the Kentucky Oaks undercard.

Although it is true that Juanita was a soundly beaten third behind Joyful Victory in the Tiffany Lass early this year, Juanita was coming off what was then a career-best Beyer and she might have bounced a bit. More importantly, Juanita has good positional speed, which should be an asset in a race Saturday that doesn’t have a great deal of pace.

As for Salty Strike, she walloped Sassy Image last time out and is stretching out to what might be her ideal distance while looking for her third straight. I just think Juanita will be a bigger price.

Monmouth Oaks

I really, really don’t like using six-horse races in the Warrior like this one, especially when wet weather is forecast and the race might be run in a sea of slop. But my options were limited. The La Jolla drew only five (I like My Best Brother, but what kind of price could he possibly be?); the $200,000 Governor’s Cup at Remington Park went with just five, including an imposing favorite in Alternation; and the Ontario Debutante drew just six, with eight starts among them. So, the Monmouth Oaks it is, and in a race where Wine Princess, Morrow Cove, and Jemima’s Pearl are the main players, I prefer Wine Princess.

Wine Princess, a daughter of Ghostzapper and 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri, is 2 for 4 in her career, but she is 2 for 2 on dirt. She comes into this off a going-away allowance score at Churchill Downs that was her best performance yet, and she now stretches out to two turns for the first time, which she should absolutely relish. And given Wine Princess’s pedigree, the wetter the track, the more she figures to like it.

Fourstardave Stakes

Weather might wreak havoc with this race. At this writing, the National Weather Service’s forecast for Saratoga Springs calls for heavy rain Friday, Friday night, and Saturday. But since this is a $500,000 race that is positioned to be an important springboard to the fall’s major preps for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, I think the New York Racing Association will do whatever it can to keep this race on turf. So I’m going to approach this race as if it will stay on turf, but be run on a bog.

There is no question that Wise Dan in the best horse here. He dominated the Grade 1 Clark last fall, was brilliant winning the Ben Ali with a 117 Beyer in his first start this year, and just missed in the Grade 1 Foster last time out, despite clearly not running his best race. If this race is switched to dirt, Wise Dan will be hard to stop at a tiny price. But even though he won last year’s Firecracker in one of his two career starts on grass, I question whether Wise Dan is as good on turf and think he could really be out of his element on deep footing.

I like Get Stormy. Get Stormy was beaten by Data Link in the Monmouth Stakes most recently and faces that opponent again Saturday. But Get Stormy really didn’t have the best of trips at Monmouth. A quick brush by another opponent forced him to move late on the backstretch, which was much earlier than he would have preferred. Get Stormy, who won this race in 2010, loves Saratoga turf, and while he is certainly capable of controlling the pace, he also rated effectively at Monmouth. Moreover, Get Stormy has run some big races on wet turf. I’m not certain that Data Link is as effective on off going.