08/18/2011 12:50PM

Weekend Warrior for Aug. 20


NEW YORK – Since next Saturday is Travers Day, it is only fitting that this Saturday would be 3-year-old fillies day, as both Grade 1 events on the national stakes schedule are for this division. The big race of the day is Saratoga’s $500,000 Alabama Stakes because it has major divisional championship implications, but the other Grade 1 is the insanely wide-open $250,000 Del Mar Oaks on the turf. The only two other graded stakes in the United States on Saturday are a pair of Grade 3 races, the $250,000 Philip H. Iselin at Monmouth Park, and the $150,000 Endine at Delaware Park.

Alabama Stakes

This event drew a small but select field. So let’s do what we did for the local prelude to this race run opening weekend at Saratoga, the Coaching Club American Oaks, and go over each of the six entrants, in post position order:

Royal Delta – She was most impressive winning the Black-Eyed Susan over subsequent Mother Goose winner Busters Ready, but was a soundly beaten third behind Alabama entrants It’s Tricky and Plum Pretty most recently in the CCA Oaks. Royal Delta, however, was likely not at her best in the CCA Oaks because a foot issue that surfaced after the Black-Eyed Susan forced her to miss training time, and a scheduled start, in between.

Pinch Pie – She has won two straight, including an overnight stakes on turf at Monmouth last time out. But she has never won on dirt, and the suspicion is she was entered as a favor to boost the field to six.

Plum Pretty – The winner of the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, she fought hard when a close second to It’s Tricky in the CCA Oaks after setting a comfortable pace. The improvement she showed in the CCA Oaks over an upset loss two back in the Hollywood Oaks was expected, for she was just recovering from an illness when she ran in the Hollywood Oaks.

It’s Tricky – She followed up her decisive victory in the Acorn Stakes – in which she walloped the subsequent winners of the Grade 1 Test, Grade 1 Prioress, and Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks – with a determined score in the CCA Oaks. If she can add a third straight Grade 1 win in this race, she will be tough to beat in the battle for champion 3-year-old filly, no matter what happens this fall.

St. John’s River – She overcame a slow early pace to just get up in the Delaware Oaks last time out, and was beaten a diminishing neck by Plum Pretty two starts back in the Kentucky Oaks. She really was brutally unlucky to not win the Kentucky Oaks. She almost got up despite ducking out at the start, costing her about three lengths, then angling in to race on the dead rail to the far turn, and then angling back in to the dead rail in upper stretch before moving out late.

Inglorious – She deserves lots of credit for walloping 16 males when she won the Queen’s Plate at this 10-furlong distance most recently, a strong performance that looks even better when the thoroughly beaten third-place finisher came back to win the second and third legs of the Canadian Triple Crown. But while she is 5 for 5 on Woodbine’s Polytrack, she is 0 for 2 on dirt.

The early pace here figures to be comfortable, like it was in the CCA Oaks, if not downright slow. That makes It’s Tricky look all the more formidable, because if Plum Pretty couldn’t hold off the pace-prompting It’s Tricky last time, why should she be able to do so going a furlong farther Saturday? The projected pace is also a problem for closers Inglorious and St. John’s River, although I think St. John’s River is still quite dangerous. But I’m going with Royal Delta.

Royal Delta was taken back on the first turn of the CCA Oaks, a race she just couldn’t have been at her best for, and was hard held down the backstretch before making a nice little move early on the far turn before understandably running out of gas. The point is, Royal Delta has more positional speed than it looks like on paper. Moreover, she has every right to be a much tougher customer second start back, and is bred to adore the added distance.

Endine Stakes

Cosmo Girl has shown high speed of late against better than she meets in this spot. But while I suspect she is the principal speed in this race, there is still enough pace pressure in here to compromise her chances. I’m looking for someone who can come from off the pace, and Ms Vanenzza is my pick.

Ms Vanenzza is not exactly without warts. She has not raced since mid-March, and her recent workout schedule is spotty, which is a cause for concern. But Ms Vanenzza is trained by the meet’s leading trainer in Juan Vasquez, who I doubt would run his filly here if he weren’t serious. And Vasquez reached out for one of the meet’s top riders in Jeremy Rose, and I doubt that Rose would take this mount if Ms Vanenzza wasn’t okay. The important thing is, Ms Vanenzza has proven to run well fresh, and she has a good closing kick. And her solid efforts in three straight graded stakes early this year against the likes of Hilda's Passion and Tar Heel Mom resulted in a series of Beyer Figures that no one else in here can match.

Philip H. Iselin Stakes

Given the lack of depth in this year’s handicap division, it is no surprise that this race, despite being a quarter-million dollar event, came up light. But that makes this a prime spot for an up-and-comer, one who can rally into what should be a busy pace, and that horse is Where’s Sterling.

Where’s Sterling came to hand over the winter at Gulfstream, getting his maiden win there in his first start of the year, and then finishing second in a strongly run allowance race to Christmas for Liam, who came back to win his next start with a Beyer Speed Figure of 102 before being abused in a speed duel in the Westchester Stakes. Where’s Sterling then dominated in another Gulfstream allowance race at this nine-furlong distance before finishing fourth in Calder’s Memorial Day Handicap in his most recent appearance. That was a hot race, as the runner up, Mambo Meister, came back to win two Calder stakes with Beyers of 100 and 110, and third-place finisher Jackson Bend, came back to beat a strong field in Saratoga’s James Marvin Stakes with a 108 Beyer.E