01/10/2013 4:23PM

Weekend Warrior for Jan. 12, 2013: Picks for San Fernando, Fort Lauderdale, and Pan Zareta


There are only two graded stakes Saturday, but they are at the tracks where you would expect to find them at this time of the year. The Grade 2, $150,000 San Fernando Stakes is the feature at Santa Anita, and the second leg in that track’s Strub series. The Grade 2, $150,000 Fort Lauderdale Stakes is the headliner at Gulfstream Park.

Fort Lauderdale Stakes

Dominus has some talent. His front-running win in the 2011 Dwyer Stakes was a good effort. Dominus also has the backing of the powerful Todd Pletcher stable, which is winning 31 percent of its races at this Gulfstream meeting, an even higher success rate than we are accustomed to seeing from this outfit. But for a horse who has one inconclusive win from two career turf starts, Dominus will be a much lower price than he should be in this grass event and is, for me, a bet against.

Dominus made his turf debut last summer in the Bernard Baruch Handicap and scored in front-running fashion, earning a 99 Beyer Speed Figure that looks solid against the group he meets Saturday. Dominus, however, absolutely walked on an uncontested lead in the Baruch, and the truth is, considering the golden setup he received, he wouldn’t have been much horse at all if he didn’t win that day. Dominus made his second turf start in the Shadwell Turf Mile, and had the misfortune of drawing a tough outside post and a tough opponent in Wise Dan, the favorite to be named Horse of the Year for 2012. Still, after being denied control of the pace this time, Dominus gave way in the final furlong to finish a soundly beaten sixth. That’s the problem to date with Dominus. He’s 2 for 2 in stakes when he controlled the pace, but he’s 0 for 5 in stakes when he didn’t, including a tired fifth as the favorite in the Ack Ack Handicap back on dirt in his most recent start. And with Fifty Proof in the lineup Saturday, Dominus shouldn’t be walking on the early lead.

Nikki’s Sandcastle is certainly a contender as he is in excellent form and has already won two stakes at the meet. But he faces a better bunch here than he has beaten in his last two, so I’m looking elsewhere.

I’m going with Sky Blazer. Yes, this is not the first time Sky Blazer has been picked in this space, but there are too many angles going on with him here for me not to take the bait. Again.

Sky Blazer also ran in the Baruch last summer, and beyond his closing style being severely compromised by the slow pace, he made things even tougher for himself when he spotted the field a three- to four-length head start. But despite all of that, Sky Blazer finished very well to be third. That fine try under adverse circumstances, combined with a big win at Belmont two starts before that, suggests to me that Sky Blazer is stakes class.

It is true that mixed in with those two solid performances were disappointing sixths in the Arlington Handicap and Knickerbocker Stakes. But I can attribute those to slightly off turf courses that Sky Blazer might not have liked, something that is not a concern this time as he will get firm footing Saturday. Sky Blazer likes Gulfstream – he made it 2 for 3 on that turf course beating a good allowance field in his only start there last winter – and I don’t mind at all that Joel Rosario picks up the mount.

San Fernando Stakes

Fed Biz is another horse I’ve followed, and with the stretch back out to two turns here, he has a license to improve on a sixth in the Malibu in his last start. But I was concerned with the lack of run Fed Biz had in the Malibu, and he’ll go without me this time.

Tribal Jewel really raised his game with blinkers on winning the first race of this Santa Anita meet, earning a 96 Beyer that is the best last-out Beyer in this field. But Tribal Jewel was ideally set up by a fast pace last time, and though he might win right back, I can’t take a horse stepping up in class off a perfect-trip win.

Mile High Magic is not normally the type of horse I would go for, but you can’t be too dogmatic in your handicapping, and I’m making an exception with him here. Mile High Magic finished a tired fifth as the favorite last time out in the Damascus Stakes on Breeders’ Cup Saturday. Granted, he disputed a scorching 43.88-second half-mile in that race. But the horse he battled with, Private Zone, continued on to finish second, and with the way the Santa Anita main track was carrying speed at the Breeders’ Cup, I think Mile High Magic should have held better instead of caving. That’s why he wouldn’t usually be my kind of horse. But if you look at the projected pace of this race, there is no one with anywhere near the speed Mile High Magic has. He is as loose on the lead as he wants to be, and I like the move of taking the blinkers off as that should help him relax early.

Pan Zareta Stakes

This feature at Fair Grounds might be at risk of coming off the turf given the rainy forecast for New Orleans. But I am approaching this race as though it will be remain on its intended surface, and I like Dijarvo.

Dijarvo raced in California last year, and her four performances were at best only fair. In fact, her sixth-, fourth-, third-, and fourth-place finishes were actually all next-to-last finishes. But she is starting over here, and I like what she is doing. Dijarvo is returning to the sort of true turf sprint distance at which she did well early in her career in Europe, and given her good European form, she figures to like getting back on footing with some cut in it. Dijarvo also now goes for the hot Andrew McKeever barn, which won with half of its first 12 starters at the Fair Grounds meet.