11/29/2012 1:02PM

Weekend Warrior for Dec. 1, 2012: King David's last two not as good as they look on paper


There is no question as to what the best race is Saturday. The Grade 3, $250,000 Native Diver Handicap at Betfair Hollywood Park attracted three runners who made their last start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, including the highly accomplished pair of Game On Dude, who is almost at the $3 million mark in career earnings, and Richard’s Kid, who has banked more than $2.2 million. The only problem is, with a field of five, the Native Diver isn’t a great betting race.

If you want good betting races, you don’t have to look any further than Saturday’s opening-day card at Gulfstream Park, where there are seven Claiming Crown stakes on tap, every one of them with a big field.

Claiming Crown Emerald [WATCH LIVE]

King David might be the favorite here, although it is hard to say with great conviction as there are many other directions the betting public could go in this race. But it is certain that King David will take a lot of money, because he has been a spectacular $35,000 claim. Two starts back, in his first outing for his current connections, King David upset the Grade 1 Jamaica Handicap. He proved that effort was no fluke with a fast-closing second in the Commonwealth Turf Stakes last time out. It goes without saying that King David will have a strong say in a spot like this. At the same time, his last two races – while good – look better on paper than they actually were, meaning he is not necessarily a great betting proposition.

In the Jamaica, favored Dullahan never really ran a step on a deep course he did not care for, and well-regarded Euro shipper Cogito also failed to show up, lending credence to reports over the summer that his real future is on dirt. When those two failed to fire, it made the Jamaica a significantly easier race. But the big assist King David got in the Jamaica was the trouble third-place finisher Summer Front had in the stretch. If Summer Front wasn’t completely shut off on the inside in midstretch, he would have won by daylight, and King David would have been a soundly beaten second.

In the Commonwealth Turf, it was King David’s turn for some trouble as he was blocked in traffic for a bit in upper stretch. But I would caution making too much of the incident. The early pace of the Commonwealth Turf seemed to be very strong (especially in comparison to the other turf stakes run on that card) and was in favor of closers, which was the approach King David used that day. Although King David was gaining on the winner, Lea, late, I thought Lea ran the much better race as he was right with that demanding early pace. As an aside, the other two pace players in the Commonwealth Turf finished 10th and 14th.

I like Nikki’s Sandcastle. Nikki’s Sandcastle is certainly logical as he comes into this off a game second in the Fayette Stakes, in which he got the place over Take Charge Indy, who came back to be second in the Grade 1 Clark last week, earning a 101 Beyer Speed Figure. Even though Nikki’s Sandcastle earned a career-best Beyer of 100 in the Fayette, the switch Saturday from synthetic to turf is a positive one for him. Nikki’s Sandcastle is still winless on synthetic, but he is a five-time winner on turf and was a narrowly beaten second two starts back on grass in the Carey Memorial. Moreover, this particular surface switch also is a profitable move for his trainer, Dave Kassen. It also doesn’t hurt that Nikki’s Sandcastle ran well on the Gulfstream turf course last winter and is well posted breaking from the one hole.

Garland of Roses Stakes

Kid Kate will likely be favored in this feature at Aqueduct to close her racing career on a winning note, and she can succeed if she runs back to her determined overnight stakes win two starts back or her near miss to Mildly Offensive four starts back. But I didn’t care for Kid Kate’s empty third as the favorite last time out, and I’m going with Delightful Quality.

Delightful Quality is easily the most inexperienced member of this field with only four career starts, but that only suggests her best races are still in front of her. In the meantime, she has kept good company. Two starts back, in her first outing after a runaway maiden score, Delightful Quality was a willing second in an overnight stakes to My Miss Aurelia. My Miss Aurelia, of course, was last year’s champion 2-year-old filly, and she came back to win the Grade 1 Cotillion over Questing, earning a 96 Beyer, and then finished an excellent second in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic to Royal Delta, earning a 106 Beyer.

Last time out, Delightful Quality was again a good second after showing the kind of positional speed that will stand her in good stead Saturday. She was beaten by Ullapool, who is a buzz saw when she gets loose on the lead like she did that day, but she finished ahead of three next-out winners. One of them, Willet, came back with a giant win in a New York-bred stakes, earning a 99 Beyer, and followed with a close second in last week’s Go For Wand Handicap.

Claiming Crown Jewel [WATCH LIVE]

Private Tale is getting a lot of mention here, presumably because his creditable fourth in the Bold Ruler Handicap most recently was the first time in his life he finished worse than third on dirt, and his ability to close (albeit in shorter events) fits in a race with lots of pace. But Private Tale has never been this nine-furlong distance, and he is no cinch to like it.

I prefer Flatter This, whose form isn’t as spotty as it might appear at first glance, especially if you toss his wet-track start and his start on turf (which he just does not like) two and three back. If you ignore those lines, you’ll see a horse with a good win last time out and a sharp stakes third-place finish four back – both with Beyers good enough to win this – and who has a genuine closing style in routes that fits the projected pace scenario.