02/14/2013 2:08PM

Weekend Warrior for Feb. 16, 2013: Picks for Mac Diarmida, Barbara Fritchie, Tampa Bay Stakes


This time of year, tracks such as Santa Anita and Gulfstream are where you would usually find the richest stakes races. But on Saturday, Laurel and Golden Gate join the party with lucrative races. Laurel has the richest race of the day, the Grade 2, $250,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap, while Golden Gate offers the Grade  3, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby. Santa Anita’s feature is the Grade 2, $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes, while Gulfstream has the stakes doubleheader of the Grade  2, $150,000 Mac Diarmida and the Grade 3, $100,000 The Very One. The one other graded event Saturday is the Grade  3, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

Mac Diarmida Stakes [Get PPs]

Every horseplayer has horses with whom he zigged when he should have zagged. In other words, you find a horse you see something in, but when you’re on him, you lose. And then when you finally get off that horse, he not only wins, he beats you. If you have been playing horses for more than two minutes, you know exactly what I mean. Newsdad is such a horse for me.

I picked Newsdad in this space in the Man o’ War Stakes last July against Point of Entry. I know it sounds ridiculous now, but at that time Point of Entry had not yet won three Grade 1’s and been a near divisional champion. I thought Newsdad was interesting that day because his recent form was darkened by a dull effort over a Keeneland turf course he might not have liked, and his prior form in Florida was sharp. Newsdad, of course, was no match for Point of Entry in the Man o’ War, but he made such a strong middle move when up against that opponent again in the Sword Dancer that I thought he was a mortal lock off the class drop in the subsequent Bowling Green Stakes. Newsdad rewarded me in the Bowling Green with one of the worst performances of his career, a distant fifth and last that was so dismal that I avoided him like the plague when he made his most recent start in the Fayette on Keeneland’s Polytrack. By now, you should know where this is going. In one of the best races of his life, Newsdad charged from last in the Fayette to win going away, and paid $19. Thank you very much.

I relate my Newsdad story for two reasons: First, there are obviously things to like about him. He comes into this race off a powerful score, and his form at Gulfstream last winter (which included a victory in the Pan American and a nose loss in this race) was so sharp that next to Keeneland’s Polytrack, Gulfstream’s turf course is his favorite surface. The other reason is to advise you that I am off Newsdad on Saturday. He can certainly win. He just won’t offer any betting value.

Lucky Chappy got a long look here from me off a third in the Hollywood Derby in his last start. Although Lucky Chappy was never a real threat to win that race, he was in the mix with Unbridled Command, who finished a very good third behind Point of Entry and Animal Kingdom in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap last week, and Grandeur, who came back to win the Hollywood Turf Cup in his next start. Unbridled Command and Grandeur are better horses than what Lucky Chappy faces Saturday, but I am concerned that he still has yet to win outside of Italy.

I like Teaks North. Granted, Teaks North had an easy trip when he led all the way in the Sunshine Millions Turf last time out, and he faces tougher company this time. But I really like how Teaks North improved dramatically back to near career-best form in the Sunshine Millions in his second start off an 11-month absence. Moreover, Teaks North certainly doesn’t need the lead to win. If anything, he is even more effective coming from off the pace, as he demonstrated when he beat a high class field in the Grade 1 United Nations in 2011, and that will probably be his approach Saturday. I also like that Teaks North’s recent win came on yielding turf, a consideration given the weather forecast for south Florida.

Barbara Fritchie Handicap [Get PPs / Watch Live]

Just when Nicole H wins three straight stakes and makes you think she is over her hang-in-the-stretch ways, she idles after striking the front in the stretch in the Correction Stakes last time out, and fails at 1-2. Nicole H is still a highly capable performer, but horses who tend to wait on other horses are not for me.

My Wandy’s Girl, who also comes from Mike Hushion’s barn, is my play. My Wandy’s Girl was a win machine at the start of her career in Puerto Rico, going 13 for 17 there, but she proved she is the real deal with an overnight stakes win in her U.S. debut at Aqueduct last November. She overcame a slow start and traffic to win by a well-measured length in good time. And I thought My Wandy’s Girl ran creditably in the Gazelle most recently, finishing third to a potential monster in Dance Card after pressing her pace and trying her on the far turn. I also like the cut back from nine to seven furlongs for My Wandy’s Girl on Saturday.

Tampa Bay Stakes [Get PPs / Watch Live]

I’m not very comfortable going against Doubles Partner here. He was compromised by a slow pace when second last time out to Teaks North in the Sunshine Millions Turf as the heavy favorite, and he has kept far better company than anyone else in this field has. But speaking as a bit of a Doubles Partner fan, his closing style has made him the recipient of a few bad trips in the past, and taking a short price on him in a big field like this one is not appealing.

Swift Warrior is my pick. Swift Warrior parlayed an easy early lead in the John B. Connally Turf Cup most recently into a career-best victory. But like Teaks North, Swift Warrior is equally adept coming from off the pace, as he showed in his fast-closing third in this race last year. Either way, Swift Warrior figures to get first run on Doubles Partner.