08/25/2011 12:02PM

Weekend Warrior for Aug. 27


Travers Day at Saratoga is at hand, with Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million renewal of the race often referred to as the Midsummer Derby heading a card that includes four other graded stakes events. Those other stakes races are the Grade 1, $250,000 King’s Bishop, which marks the return of champion Uncle Mo; the Grade 1, $250,000 Ballerina; the Grade 2, $200,000 Ballston Spa; and the Grade 3, $100,000 Victory Ride.

Elsewhere, Saturday is Juvenile Showcase Day at Calder, where all 13 races, including six stakes events, are for 2-year-olds. And at Del Mar, on the day before Sunday’s big Pacific Classic card, the feature is the Grade 2, $200,000 Del Mar Mile Handicap, in which Caracortado looks formidable at a short price.

Travers Stakes

I actually have an opinion in all five of the stakes Saturday at Saratoga, but I thought I’d lead with the big one because, well, it is the big one. In any case, with all due respect to such entrants as Prince of Wales runner-up Bowman’s Causeway, Long Brach winner Rattlesnake Bridge, and Curlin runner up Raison d’Etat, the prime Travers contenders, not surprisingly, come out of the two major preludes to this – the Haskell Invitational and the Jim Dandy.

The winning Beyer Speed Figure of the Jim Dandy was 106, a substantial 10 points higher than the winning Beyer of the Haskell. The Jim Dandy also boasts the not inconsequential fact that it was run over the same track the Travers will be run on. And yet, I believe the Haskell was the much stronger race, and my pick here is Haskell winner Coil.

There is little wrong with Jim Dandy winner Stay Thirsty. His four-length win in the local Travers prep was a breakthrough performance and reaffirmed his affinity for the Saratoga main track. But after Jim Dandy favorite Dominus (entered in the King’s Bishop) got the staggers in his first attempt at two turns, and Alternation and Brilliant Speed were total no shows, Stay Thirsty was left with little to beat. Indeed, rank outsider Moonshine Mullin (also entered in the Travers) was along to be second at 37-1, receiving a Beyer of 99 that bettered his previous career best by 15 huge points.

The Haskell, meanwhile, attracted Preakness winner Shackleford and Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice. And Coil beat them both far more decisively than his neck win margin would suggest. Coil was away slowly in the Haskell and was in the unfamiliar position of being much farther off the early pace than he ever had been before. Yet, Coil unleashed a powerful run around the far turn and moved to the leaders in midstretch as though he was going to win by open lengths, only to noticeably ease up once striking the front, which is the only reason why the finish was close. Coil, a pace player in his previous outings, can now win from anywhere on the track and is bred to love the stretch out to 10 furlongs. Also, his bullet work early this week alleviated concerns about him handling Saratoga’s main track and showed he is past an eye issue.

King’s Bishop

Part of me wants to see Uncle Mo come back with a big score here, because it is always good for the sport when a champion returns to winning form. The game can use all the charismatic horses it can get, and Uncle Mo did show tantalizing brilliance during his Eclipse Award-winning campaign last year. But Uncle Mo will be making his first start since suffering his first loss in the Wood Memorial in early April, and this is not an easy spot in which to return. Uncle Mo likes to operate on or close to the early lead, but Flashpoint is very fast and talented, and he’s not going to let Uncle Mo by easily. Poseidon’s Warrior is stepping way up, but is in career form and also has the early speed to affect the outcome. I want a horse who can successfully stalk the pace from the second flight, and I’m taking a shot with the turnback California shipper Runflatout.

Runflatout was competitive with Coil going two turns in stakes at Hollywood Park in his last two starts, and three starts back he ran well, narrowly missing in the Laz Barrera Memorial at this seven-furlong distance, employing just the sort of running style I’m looking for here. As for his dirt ability, Runflatout showed a world of potential winning his debut on dirt at Santa Anita early this year.

Let’s take a quick look at the three other stakes at Saratoga on Saturday:

Ballston Spa – Yes, I am guilty of picking Aviate every time she runs, but I have to go back to her. Aviate did not handle a deep course in the Just a Game two starts back and was wide around the track when fifth in the Diana last time out while going a distance that at this stage of her career might be too far for her. Aviate comes out of by far the best races, and the shorter distance here suits.

Victory Ride – There is a ton of early speed in this race, and I’m hoping Hot Summer might be able to capitalize. Hot Summer set a strong pace when third most recently in the strong Black-Eyed Susan, but can upset here if she comes from off the pace like she did when she won the Comely two back.

Ballerina – Sassy Image somehow got up in the Princess Rooney last time for her third straight, and her recent works at Saratoga were sensational; keeps on rolling.

Seacliff Stakes

This is one of the stakes at Calder, and what’s interesting about it is that it is one of the first 2-year-old stakes of the year around two turns. For me, a key way to distinguish form in this race is pace. Many in here come out of slow-paced races, while a few come out of races with strong paces. I think the latter type of horse has an even bigger edge than usual in a situation like this, which is why my pick is Isutalkintome.

Isutalkintome ran into a good one in his debut in Fort Loudon, subsequent winner of the Dr. Fager Stakes, and he showed improvement with a solid maiden win most recently. In both races, Isutalkintome was close to strong early fractions. That means he’ll be a pace player here, and he figures to be still going strong when others are looking for oxygen.