08/11/2011 11:52AM

Weekend Warrior for Aug. 13


Saturday is Arlington Million Day, the biggest day of the year at Arlington Park, where the $1 million feature is not the only Grade 1 race to be decided. As always, two other important Grade 1 races are on the Million card, the $750,000 Beverly D., and the $400,000 Secretariat.

Other races of note elsewhere include the Grade 1, $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga, the Grade 2, $150,000 La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar, and the Grade 3, $150,000 Monmouth Oaks at Monmouth Park.

Arlington Million

Cape Blanco, a multiple Group 1 winner in Europe, impressed when he won the Man o’ War Stakes last month in his U.S. debut. He tracked the pace and was so strong drawing off through the stretch that he rendered Gio Ponti’s late run totally ineffective, all despite blowing a shoe and drifting out in the stretch. Cape Blanco was so impressive in the Man o’ War that many will wonder how he can get beat in this race.

While Cape Blanco is indeed a defensive must-use in multi-race exotics, I am against featuring him here because I wouldn’t be surprised if his recent travel schedule has a negative impact on him. Cape Blanco was shipped from trainer Aidan O’Brien’s home base in Ireland for the Man o’ War, returned to Ireland after that race, and then made another trans-Atlantic trip for this spot. A similar shipping schedule did not work for the O’Brien-trained Master of Hounds when that one was a popular upset pick in the Belmont Stakes, in which he never ran a jump after a good try in the Kentucky Derby. And while it is true that Cape Blanco is a much better horse than Master of Hounds, Cape Blanco has done all of his traveling in the heat of the summer.

I’m also against Gio Ponti, but for a more tangible reason. Although Gio Ponti won this race in 2009 and won last year’s weirdly run Man o’ War going 11 furlongs, at this stage of his career, Gio Ponti seems most effective in mile races instead of a 10-furlong event like this. Gio Ponti’s second to Cape Blanco last time out and his third in the Manhattan two starts back were just not of the same quality as his win in the Shadwell Turf Mile and his second to the great Goldikova in the Breeders’ Cup Mile last fall.

Wigmore Hall is my play. I’m not going to be too harsh on Wigmore Hall’s last two outings in Asia as he was in tough spots against formidable company. Wigmore Hall’s first two starts this year in Dubai – a sharp win in the Jebel Hatta and an excellent third in the Dubai Duty Free – are far more representative of what he can do. It also helps that Wigmore Hall has proven that he can fire at Arlington, finishing second to Paddy O’Prado in last year’s Secretariat despite being compromised by a very slow pace while running his final quarter-mile in a fast 22.79 seconds.

As for the two other big races Saturday at Arlington, if I for a second thought that I could get the 3-1 that Stacelita is on the morning line for the Beverly D., then she would have been the marquee pick this week. But I think Stacelita’s price will be considerably lower, as it should be. Stacelita, a true Group 1 mare in her native France, finished third as the favorite against males in the United Nations last time out. She now meets a much softer field of females, while cutting back to a distance that is right in her wheelhouse. Moreover, Stacelita did not return to Europe after the U.N. She was instead placed in the expert hands of Chad Brown, and is first time Lasix Saturday.

In the Secretariat, Treasure Beach, winner of the Irish Derby two starts back and beaten a head in the Epsom Derby three starts back, towers over this field on class lines. But I’m going with the other Euro shipper – Ziyarid. Ziyarid upset a Group 3 stakes at Longchamp last time out, and despite what the trouble line in his past performances say, his connections insisted after the race that he was not merely in that race as a pacesetter for the eventual runner-up. Most importantly, Ziyarid has won three straight and is much improved, and he can take this speedless field wire to wire.

Sword Dancer Invitational

If Winchester returns to his 2010 form Saturday, and he has a right to take a big step forward off a second in the off-the-turf Stars and Stripes Stakes in his recent return from a seven-month absence, then he will be formidable here. But I don’t want to rely on that happening, especially when Winchester’s odds aren’t going to be very appealing, anyway.

Boisterous is the pick. Boisterous was outkicked by Cape Blanco and Gio Ponti when third in the Man o’ War most recently. But while I am taking a shot against Cape Blanco and Gio Ponti in the Arlington Million, the fact remains that, with the possible exception of Winchester, those two are far better than anyone else in this Sword Dancer. Boisterous ran well in an overnight stakes two starts back, winning more definitively than it looks on paper, and is backed by the hot barn of Shug McGaughey, who is having a terrific Saratoga meet.

Monmouth Oaks

If a race ever looked like it had the potential to fall apart late, it is this one. Seven of the 11 entered here like to operate on or right with the early lead. So, this should be easy, right? The winner has to come from one of the four who can pass a horse or two in the stretch. Not so fast. Maybe I’m making this more complicated than it has to be, but I just don’t trust any of the so-called closers here.

In these situations, I will opt for the speed of the speed, and that is Savvy Supreme. Savvy Supreme has only one poor outing on her record, and that came on a tricky muddy track in the Grade 1 Acorn, a powerhouse race from which winner It’s Tricky came back to win the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, runner-up Turbulent Descent came back to win the Grade 1 Test, and third-place finisher Her Smile came back to win the Grade 1 Prioress. As for Savvy Supreme, she rebounded from the Acorn with a solid second in an overnight stakes at Belmont, and she looks to be cycling to a peak performance.