01/12/2012 3:30PM

Weekend Warrior for Jan. 14, 2012


Saturday’s national stakes schedule is a busy one. Santa Anita’s Grade 2, $150,000 San Fernando is the highest ranked and richest race in the country, but Gulfstream Park offers a pair of Grade 3, $100,000 events, the Hal’s Hope (which marks the return of Jackson Bend) and the Fort Lauderdale.

Tampa Bay Downs also has a $100,000 stakes doubleheader Saturday, consisting of the Pasco and Gasparilla. Two other noteworthy races are the $100,000 California Derby at Golden Gate and a strong, but very difficult, renewal of the $75,000 Ruthless at Aqueduct.

Pasco Stakes

One of the tricky aspects to handicapping 2-year-old or early season 3-year-old races is these young and lightly races horses can often suddenly improve dramatically. This comes to mind because of For Oby, who is a major player in this race off a win in the Jack Price Juvenile two starts back at this seven-furlong distance and his narrow miss last time out in the Spectacular Bid, the opening-day feature at Gulfstream.

For Oby obviously merits much respect here on form alone. The projected pace scenario also works to his favor. For Oby showed the ability to be effective rating off the pace in the Spectacular Bid, and the pace Saturday could be hot and contested if Wildcat Creek and Seven Kind hook up early like it looks like they might. But where For Oby really jumps off the paper here is with the 90 Beyer Speed Figure he received in the Spectacular Bid, which is easily the best career Beyer in this field and the best last-out Beyer by 12 significant points.

The Spectacular Bid was only the sixth start of For Oby’s career, so it is perfectly plausible that race heralded a big step forward on his part. On the other hand, For Oby’s Spectacular Bid Beyer was 15 points higher than what he earned in his Price win only three weeks earlier, which raises the possibility that his Spectacular Bid number might be a one-race aberration. And the fact that Ancient Rome, who nosed For Oby in the Spectacular Bid, came back to finish a dismal 10th as the favorite in the Gulfstream Park Derby also invites some skepticism. So while For Oby is a win candidate Saturday for a variety of reasons, he is going to be bet off that last-out Beyer, a number I’m not inclined to buy at face value. Yet, anyway.

I like Adirondack King. Adirondack King comes into this off a three-race win streak at Parx Racing, and while it is true his last two wins were fashioned over small fields against which he was odds-on (the most recent at the ridiculous price of 1-10), he was tons the best in both scores. In fact, Adirondack King showed what a running fool he is three starts back when he dominated a hot maiden race from which three in the beaten field came back to win their next starts. One of them, soundly beaten runner up Il Villano, came back to win his next three starts, two of which were stakes, and was a creditable third in last week’s Count Fleet going a distance that might be beyond his scope right now. Adirondack King has worked very well of late at Palm Meadows and has enough positional speed to work out a good pocket rail trip here.

[MORE: Full Coverage of the 2012 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay]

Fort Lauderdale Stakes

Flat Out was one of the best older males in the country last year, winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Suburban and finishing second in the Whitney and Woodward, so his presence in this turf race is curious to say the least. Flat Out has never started on turf, and even though his dam won twice on turf and he is a half to a six-time winner on turf, this race really has the feel of a reduced expectations prep for the Donn.

There are certainly other ways to go here. Mutual Trust is an appealing Juddmonte-Bill Mott newcomer to U.S. racing who was a Group 1 winner in France last year. Teaks North was a two-time Grade 1 winner last year, but he might want more distance than he gets Saturday. And Silver Medallion looks like he’s on his way now that he’s focusing on grass racing. But I’m going with Santiva.

Every horseplayer has his stable of pets, and I admit Santiva is one of mine. I liked him when he ran in the Breeders’ Futurity at 2 as a maiden and thought he ran very well against a speed-biased track. And I really liked his sixth in last year’s Kentucky Derby, considering he couldn’t have gotten much out of his trouble-filled final prep in the Blue Grass. In fact, off that, I picked Santiva in the Belmont, an outing best ignored since he did not handle the slop. But I think Santiva’s connections are doing the right thing now focusing on turf racing. Santiva was second on turf at 2 to a Grade 1 winner and was a solid second in his return to turf last month. Santiva was three wide around both turns, was only nailed late by a very nice colt in Unbridled Ocean, and yet should improve as that was his first start in six months.

[MORE: Full Coverage of the 2012 Fort Lauderdale Stakes at Gulfstream]

San Fernando Stakes

Tapizar won last year’s Sham Stakes over the Santa Anita main track, was a stylish winner of his comeback last fall, and can’t be held accountable for his loss in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile as that really was too much to ask of him second start back off a long layoff. But even with Tapizar looking like the main speed here, I can’t go with him. This will be his first two-turn start in 11 months, and the Steve Asmussen barn is off to an uncharacteristically slow start at the meet, with its only winner so far going into Thursday being in a $50,000 claimer for 3-year-olds.

Even if he is facing better than he did when he won the Iowa, West Virginia, and Super derbies last year, Prayer for Relief is a logical alternative because he trips out well here. But I’m taking a flyer on Riveting Reason. Riveting Reason’s recent form is darkened as his last two starts came on turf, a surface he doesn’t seem to like, and was coming off an eight-month layoff three starts back. He is now back to dirt, and he just missed in the Robert Lewis over this track last year.

[MORE: Full Coverage of the 2012 San Fernando Stakes at Santa Anita]