01/19/2012 1:57PM

Weekend Warrior for Jan. 21: Seven Lively Sins liable to improve


Fair Grounds commands the spotlight Saturday with its “Road to the Derby Kickoff Day” card of six stakes races, topped by the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes. The Lecomte is the first route stop in New Orleans’s path to the Triple Crown that continues with the Risen Star and concludes with the Louisiana Derby. Among other stakes Saturday at Fair Grounds are the $125,000 Silverbulletday for 3-year-old fillies, the $100,000 Louisiana Handicap, and the $100,000 Colonel E. R. Bradley Handicap.

Amazombie, the champion male sprinter of 2011, makes his first start of 2012 in Santa Anita’s feature, the Grade 2, $150,000 Palos Verdes. Stakes of note elsewhere include the $100,000 Kitten’s Joy at Gulfstream Park and the $100,000 California Oaks at Golden Gate.

Lecomte Stakes

Shared Property was made the tepid morning-line favorite, and that seems right to me since he did win the Arlington-Washington Futurity and was beaten less than five lengths when sixth in the Breeders’ Futurity last year. But I’m not sold on him here, and it really doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that he has to break from post 13 with a short run to the first turn. Shared Property is a drop-back closer, and he shouldn’t have much trouble getting over before reaching the first turn. What bothers me about him is he got very favorable pace setups in both of his stakes starts. In fact, the winner of the Breeders’ Futurity, Dullahan, was actually behind the lagging Shared Property in the early running. But while there is a reasonable amount of pace in this race, I’m not sure the pace will set up quite as favorably for Shared Property this time.

Speaking of pace, the streaking Exfactor will certainly be a part of it. Exfactor won the Bashford Manor last summer, and he returned from a 5 1/2-month layoff last month to win the Sugar Bowl Stakes over the track. But Exfactor had to work hard in the Sugar Bowl, and the demanding effort off a layoff, combined with a first-time stretch-out to two turns makes Exfactor a candidate for form regression.

I liked Seven Lively Sins last time out in the Delta Downs Jackpot, in which he finished fourth, and I’m going to give him another shot here. Off a sharp second in the Iroquois Stakes in which he set the fractions and was out well past the wire, I thought Seven Lively Sins would be a major part of the pace in the Delta Jackpot. But the Jackpot turned out to be a surprisingly run race with a much hotter pace than expected, and Seven Lively Sins found himself in the unfamiliar position of being much farther off the lead than he had ever been before. I think he did okay to finish where he did, and while it is true that runner-up Basmati came back to be soundly beaten in the CashCall Futurity, the subsequent sharp third in the Sham by third-place finisher Longview Drive upheld the Delta Jackpot form to some extent. Seven Lively Sins should be more forwardly placed this time, and in fact might fall into a sweet stalking trip from close range.

Palos Verdes Stakes

Amazombie is not only good, he’s consistent. And on paper, he looks to receive a pace setup similar to the ones he got when he closed to win the Ancient Title and Breeders’ Cup Sprint last fall, the victories that made him an Eclipse Award winner. But this race won’t be run on paper. It might be run in the slop, as rain is in the forecast for the Los Angeles area Friday night and Saturday. Although he is bred to like it, Amazombie is an unknown on a wet dirt track. Moreover, I’m not sure I would want to rely on a closer in a sprint race at Santa Anita that could well be run on a sloppy track. And if the track does come up wet, there is a possibility Amazombie could scratch.

Euroears is a real mystery here. He is certainly good enough to win; in fact he won this race last year, he beat Amazombie when he won the Bing Crosby, and was second in the Dubai Golden Shaheen. He’s also quick enough to be on the pace. After all, he did dispute the early pace in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. But Euroears’s most recent effort in the Vernon Underwood was unsettling. Not only could he manage only a fourth as the favorite, his early zip was completely absent,

I’m going with Courtside. Granted, Courtside has never faced, let alone beat, this kind before. But he ran big when he won the California Cup Sprint last time out, he has high, reliable speed, and he has won over the track in the slop in the past. If you want, you could also use Mensa Heat, another entrant here, to make a case that Courtside fits in this spot despite the class jump. Mensa Heat was soundly beaten by Courtside in the Cal Cup Sprint, but prior to that, Mensa Heat was a close and troubled third to Amazombie in the Ancient Title, and after the Cal Cup, Mensa Heat won the On Trust Handicap with a 97 Beyer. In fairness, however, Mensa Heat never ran a jump in the Cal Cup, a performance so out of character that drawing conclusions from it might be unwise. That highlights a major drawback of comparative handicapping, and is a reason why it’s not my favorite method. But I just point all this out in the interests of full disclosure.

Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap

Suntracer meets tougher older horses here, but he is in good form, and Strike Impact looks to be sitting on a big effort, judging from his second in the slop last time. But I like Baltimore Bob.

It is true that Baltimore Bob was beaten decisively last time out by another one of his opponents Saturday, Mr. Vegas, but there were extenuating circumstances. The most obvious one is that Baltimore Bob was coming off an eight-month absence and Mr. Vegas had a big edge in recency. But just as important is Baltimore Bob, whose back form is good enough to win this, wound up setting the pace in his return by default. He seems to be much more effective when he has a target to run at, and he is expected to return to that style here.