08/22/2013 1:13PM

Weekend Warrior for Aug. 24: Picks for King's Bishop, Test, Del Mar Handicap

Barbara D. Livingston
Majestic Hussar, with trainer Eddie Kenneally, may be able to stalk and pounce in the King's Bishop.

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There are a lot of big days at every Saratoga meet, but Saturday is the biggest of the big. It’s Travers Day, and the Grade 1, $1 million event tops a card that also includes the Grade 1, $500,000 King’s Bishop, the Grade 1, $500,000 Test, and the Grade 2, $250,000 Ballston Spa Stakes.

Sunday is the big day of the Del Mar meeting with the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic heading the program, but the headliner there Saturday is the Grade 2, $200,000 Del Mar Handicap.


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King’s Bishop

As is often the case in this seven-furlong event for 3-year-olds, there is some serious early speed here. Let Em Shine is probably the fastest early of them all. He showed crazy early foot during his impressive three-race win streak in Southern California, and he set early fractions of 21.99 and 44.73 seconds like it was breaking sticks last time out in the Woody Stephens in his East Coast debut. But Mentor Cane, who set a wicked early pace in the Amsterdam most recently, also has intense speed. It’s difficult envisioning either letting the other off easy in the early running, so it’s only natural to look toward closers here.

Forty Tales is first up in this category. He won the Derby Trial, the Woody Stephens, and the Amsterdam over the track in his last three starts, and if anything, he is better suited by the additional half-furlong he gets Saturday over the Amsterdam. Forty Tales is certainly logical, as is Declan’s Warrior, who might have been best when a narrowly beaten second in the Stephens. Declan’s Warrior turned in an uncharacteristic dud when fifth in the Amsterdam, but he was trained kind of easily going into that race, and a sharp bullet work since that was best of the day by almost a full second presages a much improved effort. But I’m looking for a longer price, and I’m taking Majestic Hussar.

On paper, Majestic Hussar looks nothing like a closer. He scored in front-running fashion when he beat Belmont and Jim Dandy stakes winner Palace Malice three starts back in his 3-year-old bow, and he set a strong early pace when fourth in Kentucky Derby winner Orb’s Florida Derby two starts back. But it was the way Majestic Hussar ran when he won earlier this meet off a five-month layoff that makes me think he might be able to work out a sweet trip here.

Against a tough group of older opponents, Majestic Hussar did not have the lead in the early running. Instead, he pressed the pace from the inside, which is rarely the early position I would want my horses to be in. Yet after forcing strong early fractions, Majestic Hussar drew away through the stretch to score decisively and earn a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 98 that puts him right in the ballpark with horses who will be much lower prices here. But the way Majestic Hussar was content to press the pace instead of gun for the lead in his comeback suggests that he can sit off Let Em Shine and Mentor Cane early and still be highly effective.

Test Stakes

Sweet Lulu was clearly the best winning all three of her starts in Southern California, and it could well be that she’s a star in the making. But this will be Sweet Lulu’s first career attempt on a dirt track and her first start in a stakes race of any kind. And on top of that, she’s the potential favorite. Sweet Lulu might win, but it will be without me.

I took My Happy Face last time out in the Coaching Club American Oaks, and if I could take her in that race against Princess of Sylmar and Unlimited Budget, I can certainly go back to her in this easier spot. The CCA Oaks was My Happy Face’s first start around two turns, and though she proved no match for Princess of Sylmar after setting the pace, she was far from disgraced finishing second to the subsequent Alabama winner and likely 3-year-old filly champion.

Before the CCA Oaks, My Happy Face was solid in extended one-turn races like this. She won the Tempted and ran Dreaming of Julia to a head in the Frizette last year in one-turn mile races, and two starts back, she impressed winning the Lotka Stakes off a five-month layoff in her first start for trainer Chad Brown.

The Test is race 9 on Saturday’s card. Race 10 is the Ballston Spa, and the Centre Court of last spring would dominate this field, but she looks like she has lost her form. I will go with the much improved Laughing. Yes, Laughing upset the Diana last time by way of setting a slow pace, but she should get a great trip again stalking Pianist early. Race 11 is the King’s Bishop, which I already talked about, and race 12 is the Travers.

This Travers is more of a race to watch rather than a great betting race, unless, that is, I can get 3-1 or more on Palace Malice, which won’t happen. I just think Palace Malice has fewer questions going in than Verrazano or Orb. With Verrazano, there is the matter of the 10-furlong distance, and with Orb, you have to wonder if he can get back to top form without a traditional Travers prep. Palace Malice, on the other hand, will get the distance, and his big win over the track most recently says he is in career form.

Del Mar Handicap

Off his rallying second last time out in the Eddie Read, Vagabond Shoes is obvious here. Then again, Vagabond Shoes has never been beyond 9 1/2 furlongs, and just because he closed well at a shorter distance, it doesn’t automatically mean he will be as effective stretching out to this 11-furlong trip.

I like Mr T Bird, who ran reasonably well when fifth in the 12-furlong Cougar II Stakes most recently behind two horses who are coming back in the Pacific Classic. And now Mr T Bird moves back to turf, on which he won nicely two starts back and which might be his preferred surface.