02/23/2012 1:16PM

Weekend Warrior for Feb. 25


Fair Grounds will be the busiest track in the country Saturday when it comes to stakes action. Its Louisiana Derby Preview Day card boasts six stakes events, topped by the Grade 2, $300,000 Risen Star Stakes, the local springboard to the Louisiana Derby, to be run April 1.

But as strong as the program is Saturday at Fair Grounds, the stakes racing Saturday at Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita certainly commands a share of the spotlight. There are three stakes on Gulfstream’s card, and while the Grade 2, $250,000 Davona Dale (preceded by the Grade 3, $100,000 The Very One Stakes) is the ostensible feature, the real main event is the Grade 3, $100,000 Sabin Stakes. The Sabin lured Royal Delta, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic last fall and the champion 3-year-old filly of 2011, as well as Awesome Maria, who was one of the best older females in the country last year before injury curtailed her campaign, and the highly talented Groupie Doll.

At Santa Anita, the Grade 2, $200,000 San Carlos Stakes features a battle between Amazombie, last year’s champion male sprinter, and The Factor, a two-time Grade 1 winner who, on his day, is at least as good as any sprinter in the nation.

The Very One Stakes

Perfect Shirl sprung a huge surprise when she upset last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. She ran the best race of her life that day, but her Breeders’ Cup score was as much a function of other factors as it was a big effort on her part. Specifically, a handful of horses had bad trips in the Filly and Mare Turf, most notably Misty for Me, who finished third, beaten less than a length, and Aruna, who finished fifth, beaten a length. If either of those had even only a slightly less horrible trip than they did – and I mean trips that were only a tiny bit better – then we wouldn’t be talking about Perfect Shirl being a Breeders’ Cup winner. In any case, while this race isn’t nearly as tough a spot as the Breeders’ Cup, Perfect Shirl on Saturday won’t be anywhere near the 27-1 she was last time, and I need to see that her Filly and Mare Turf wasn’t an aberration.

Casablanca Smile has yet to finish off the board in the United States, and she deserves credit for leading all the way in the 12-furlong La Prevoyante in early December off an 11-month absence. But while Casablanca Smile has been given ample time to rebound from that effort, her La Prevoyante pace was very slow. A handful of horses stretching out from middle distances in this race suggests the pace this time will be stronger, which could compromise Casablanca Smile.

Keertana is the strong play. Keertana beat a softer field when she won this race last year, but she showed she fits with these when she later won the Bewitch and beat males in the Louisville Handicap. Keertana had a good prep for this early this month in the Endeavour Stakes, finishing third to Grade 1 winner Zagora after making a three-wide run on the far turn. She is now primed for a big step forward second start off an eight-month absence while also stretching out to an extended distance at which she is more effective.

Davona Dale Stakes

It is obvious why Grace Hall comes into 2012 as one of the top-ranked 3-year-old fillies in the country. She was a game second to champion My Miss Aurelia in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, finishing far ahead of two-time Grade 1 winner Weemissfrankie and 11 other opponents. Grace Hall also won the Grade 1 Spinaway last summer, although in retrospect, the field she beat in that race wasn’t strong. But while Grace Hall might win this race easily at a short price in her first start since the Breeders’ Cup, the fact remains she hasn’t run really fast yet, and that opens the door to other possibilities.

Disposablepleasure hasn’t run fast yet, either. But she was so much the best winning the Demoiselle as the favorite late last November it was ridiculous. Disposablepleasure stumbled badly at the start, conceding the field four to five lengths, and was much farther off the pace than she was in her prior two starts on dirt. She then made a move into the far turn only to be steadied, and she had a little more traffic in the stretch before courageously prevailing.

But I’m going with another filly who ran in the Demoiselle, Captivating Lass. Captivating Lass was a well-bet 5-1 in the Demoiselle off a mediocre first out win at Parx Racing, and while she was certainly no match for Disposablepleasure, I’m not sure one should draw conclusions from Captivating Lass’s performance that day. Something happened to her into the far turn, and it looked like she was going to be eased up out of the race, but she finished on her own courage and wound up seventh. When Captivating Lass next appeared in the Busanda Stakes, she had Lasix and blinkers on, and she gamely ran down an odds-on favorite who walked on the early lead.

What’s intriguing about Captivating Lass, aside from the fact that she looks like a filly who might advance rapidly, is she has a profile similar to stablemate It’s Tricky. Last year, It’s Tricky, like Captivating Lass, was sent to Florida after winning an Aqueduct inner-track stakes. It’s Tricky wound up flopping in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. But the important thing to remember is It’s Tricky’s connections absolutely had the right idea. It’s Tricky rebounded from her Gulfstream loss to win the Grade 1 Acorn and Grade 1 CCA Oaks, and then finished second in the Alabama, Cotillion, and Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic.

Risen Star Stakes

If El Padrino runs back to his allowance victory at Gulfstream last month, the rest of this field won’t know which way he went. The problem is that score, in which El Padrino bettered his previous best Beyer Speed Figure by 21 points, came on a wet track. That, combined with the fact that El Padrino’s runaway maiden win came in the slop and that he has a big wet track pedigree, makes me reluctant to take him at a short price on the fast track he is likely to get Saturday.

The Lecomte, the local prep for this, wasn’t a strong race. But I can at least make an excuse for the close third-place finisher, Shared Property. Shared Property, my pick, was making his first start in 3 1/2 months, and he was caught three to four wide around both turns.