08/04/2011 2:32PM

Weekend Warrior for August 6

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NEW YORK – Saturday is a perfect example of why Saratoga and Del Mar are the premier summer race meets. Saratoga offers a Grade 1 stakes doubleheader consisting of an excellent renewal of the $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap and the $250,000 Test Stakes, while Del Mar presents a strong edition of the Grade 1, $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes. The other big race on Saturday’s stakes schedule is the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park.

Whitney Invitational Handicap

This Whitney attracted a field of 11, and there isn’t an automatic toss in the bunch. Perhaps the best way to tackle such a wide-open affair is to project how the race will unfold.

Given his 3 post draw, I picture Morning Line going for the lead. I envision Tizway being the primary pace-presser, with Friend Or Foe, Mission Impazible, Rail Trip, and perhaps Rodman settling in stalking position. Although his big win this year came in the seven-furlong Carter, Morning Line is absolutely capable of handling this nine-furlong distance. I would consider Morning Line a big threat to go wire to wire if I thought that Tizway wouldn’t turn the heat up on Morning Line perhaps as early as entering the backstretch. But I think that’s what Tizway will do. And while Tizway was sensational winning the Met Mile, I doubt he can be as effective at this longer distance.

As for the pace-stalkers, I doubt Rodman and Friend Or Foe are quite good enough, even if both are in good form. I also think the jury is still out as to whether Rail Trip is quite as good on dirt as he was when he was a true Grade 1 performer in his younger days on the synthetic tracks in California. Mission Impazible, on the other hand, is a strong threat to win. Mission Impazible was out in the better footing in the three path last time out in the Stephen Foster Handicap, and was unable to stave off the late charge from the implausible Pool Play. Yet Mission Impazible still ran very well because he ran hard every step of the way. But if the interior fractions of this Whitney turn hot like I sense they might, Mission Impazible and the other stalkers will have to work hard to stay close. That might compromise them in addition to the pacesetters.

With that in mind, I’m leaning toward a deeper closer in this Whitney, and that leaves Flat Out, Giant Oak, Headache, Apart, and Duke of Mischief as my options. Duke of Mischief and Headache are also in good form – heck, everyone in this race is – but I think they are a notch below the best here. Giant Oak might get as good a setup as he did when he won the Donn early this year. But he also had good set ups in the Foster and Alysheba in his last two starts, and couldn’t get the job done, so I’m looking elsewhere. I’ve always been an Apart fan, but I can’t make an excuse for him not doing better than third in the Foster, and that won’t do here.

So I’m down to Flat Out, which is a bit funny since a few folks questioned why I didn’t move him into the top 10 in the Watchmaker Watch after he blew away his field and earned a gaudy Beyer Speed Figure of 113 most recently in the Suburban Handicap. My answer was that Flat Out didn’t beat a lot in the Suburban, and that his performance was so far superior to anything he had previously done that I would have to see some corroborating evidence before I bought into him.

The thing is, Flat Out is positioned Saturday to confirm his Suburban performance. While it is true he is meeting much tougher company, it should also be noted that Flat Out was beaten less than three lengths when sixth in the Foster two starts back, and that after scraping paint on a day when it appeared the rail was the deepest part of the track. I expect this Whitney to set up for a horse with the type of late kick Flat Out used to dominate the Suburban, and a pair of bullet works since suggest that he just might be vastly improved.

West Virginia Derby

This race really does look like it should come down to the two California shippers – Dreamy Kid, who upset subsequent Grade 1 Haskell Invitational winner Coil in the Swaps last time out, and Prayer for Relief, winner of the Iowa Derby most recently. I prefer Prayer for Relief.

Prayer for Relief had a 6 1/2-month break between his 2 and 3-year-old campaigns, and he has come back a much better horse. Not only were the two Beyer Figures that Prayer for Relief earned this year in the Iowa Derby and in his Hollywood Park allowance win before that superior to any of the Beyers he earned last year, he has also shown dramatically improved positional speed. That improved early foot puts Prayer for Relief in line for a perfect trip here, and will give him first run on the slower Dreamy Kid. Moreover, Prayer for Relief proved in Iowa that he is solid on dirt. We don’t know the same yet about Dreamy Kid. Although Dreamy Kid was second in a Santa Anita maiden race early this year in his one start on dirt, that was a weak race.

Test Stakes

Let’s face it, Turbulent Descent will take a world of beating here. Turbulent Descent is already a two-time Grade 1 winner, and while her second last time out in the Acorn at 3-5 was initially disappointing, it looks much better now for these reasons: Acorn winner It’s Tricky came back to win the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, distant third-place finisher Her Smile came back to win the Grade 1 Prioress, and Turbulent Descent raced against the grain of a speed-favoring track. But if Turbulent Descent has an Achilles' heel, it might be that she isn’t quite as effective on a dry dirt track, although I concede that I could be really reaching with that.

I’ll take a shot with American Lady, who will be making her stakes debut, but who has earned very competitive Beyers in her three starts. What’s also intriguing about American Lady is that her connections are showing great confidence in her shipping her across the country knowing full well that they would be facing Turbulent Descent in this spot.