12/20/2012 2:00PM

Weekend Warrior for Dec. 22, 2012: Picks for El Prado, Diliberto Memorial, Bonapaw

Tom Keyser
Hollinger has tended to be his best when settled just off the pace.

The Weekend Warrior has slimmer pickings than usual this Saturday, what with New York and Southern California being dark. No worries, however, as several stakes worth examining are on the schedule, most notably at two of the major winter venues, Gulfstream Park and Fair Grounds.

The top purse Saturday at both of those tracks is $75,000, which means Laurel Park can claim the richest Thoroughbred race of the day with the $125,000 Thirty Eight Go Go. But the Laurel race figures to have a huge favorite in Bold Affair, a standout filly already with three stakes wins this year at the Maryland track, so let’s set our sights on some races that could have a little more wagering value.

Gulfstream: El Prado Stakes

Few races – anytime, anywhere – can offer the smorgasbord of opportunity that this $75,000 one-mile turf race can, assuming it holds together with the 14-starter limit. Where to start? Salto, coming from the high-profile Todd Pletcher barn, might be a lukewarm choice after running a respectable fourth as the favorite in the Fayette Stakes eight weeks ago, but there are far too many other live chances in against him to settle for such a relatively low price.

Teaks North is a very interesting returnee in his first start under the care of Richard Dutrow Jr. (21 percent with layoffs of 180-plus days). A multiple Grade 1 winner, the 5-year-old gelding has had 11 recorded workouts since early October, draws favorably in post 2, and gets the call from John Velazquez. Come to think of it, this one, too, might be short on value, considering it’s Dutrow and Johnny V. and all that comes with that. So let’s dig a little deeper.

How about something like the Roger Attfield-trained gray, Hollinger? He might have been a little too keen when he returned from an 11-week layoff when he made all the pace in the Grade 3 Tropical Turf at Calder last month. He has tended to be his best when settled just off the pace, and with Jose Lezcano working out just that kind of trip, let’s give him a solid upset chance. He’s got the back class (earnings of nearly $700,000) and suitable top Beyer Speed Figures, and with that needed last race under him and the slight turnback in distance, he could be moving best of all at race’s end. Exotic possibilities include such long-priced runners as Kharafa, a New York-bred really coming to hand for Timmy Hills; Xin Xu Lin, a former Brazilian champion who surely is better than his recent form suggests; and Beau Choix, a steady-as-he-goes stalwart for Barclay Tagg.

As our old friend Clem Florio used to say in the Maryland press boxes: “You hit the tri here, they should pay you double.”

Fair Grounds: Diliberto Memorial

The early pace in this $75,000, 1 1/16-mile grass race figures to play a key role in the outcome, with there being no obvious front-runner in a well-matched field of seven. Once was, Workin for Hops could be counted on to make the front, but he’s had a troubled year and was a two-back claim for $40,000. Surely the winner here will prove himself worth more than that.

Maybe Dubious Miss, the curiously named gelding with a 2-3-2 record in 7 starts over the local turf course, will be prominent from the bell. He comes very well-drawn in post 1 with the hot jockey, Brian Hernandez Jr., and surely he needed his last race at Churchill Downs after overcoming nagging foot problems through the summer. Let’s give him the nod over a familiar rival, the fellow 8-year-old Strike Impact, who had a nightmarish trip in his Churchill finale. And let’s be skeptical of several of the other logical ones because of their career turf records: Heavenville (0 for 13), James Street (0 for 2), and Hotep (1 for 8). The lone 3-year-old in the field, Skyring, has to prove his monster run at 50-1 in the River City wasn’t a fluke.

Fair Grounds: Bonapaw Stakes

Turf sprints are a perennial fan favorite, and this $75,000 race serves as a reason why. Most of these nine specialists bring legit chances into this, making for a terrific betting race. The first horse in the gate, Hollywood Hit, sports major Jekyll-and-Hyde form while having raced primarily on synthetics and may have a tough time with the transition. Meanwhile, Cash Refund might well have been entered with his connections hoping the race is rained off. We’ll make them our first two tosses, assuming it does stay on the grass.

Take a look at Icon Ike and his 3-for-4 record over the local course. He turns back from a two-turn race and could be absolutely flying off a hot pace to be contested by Hollywood Hit, Next Right Thing, and perhaps the turnbacking Global Power. So let’s look for a closer indeed to close out the weekend plays.