01/20/2011 8:29PM

Weekend Warrior for Jan. 22, 2011

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NEW YORK – With but five horses entered and none of them a divisional leader, one could easily argue whether Saturday’s Lecomte Stakes can actually be considered a legitimate milepost on the long road to the Kentucky Derby. Nevertheless, this Grade 3, $100,000 event heads a card at Fair Grounds dubbed “Road to the Derby Kickoff Day,” which includes five other stakes races. Among them are the Grade 3, $100,000 Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap, and the $100,000 Silverbulletday Stakes.

Otherwise, Saturday’s national stakes schedule is on the light side. The feature at Santa Anita is the Grade 2, $150,000 Palos Verdes Stakes, and it came up a good race, but it looks a bit chalky, thanks to Smiling Tiger. The only other graded event on the day is the Grade 3, $100,000 Toboggan Stakes at Aqueduct. The headliner at Gulfstream Park is the $100,000 Sweetest Chant Stakes.

Sweetest Chant Stakes

If Kathmanblu runs the way she did last time out in the Golden Rod Stakes, or two starts back in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, or three starts back in the Jessamine Stakes, then the rest of this field won’t know which way she went. Kathmanblu buried 10 opponents when she won the Jessamine by a widening four lengths. She had a bad trip in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, and yet still nearly got second from the immensely talented Winter Memories. And when switched to dirt in the Golden Rod, she won laughing in a performance that has her connections understandably thinking Kentucky Oaks.

Kathmanblu might simply be tons the best in this race, and for that reason, perhaps it’s foolish to try and tip her over. But if there is a time any of those lined up Saturday against Kathmanblu has a shot of beating her, this might be it. Kathmanblu will be making her first start in two months. If you go back and look at her record, Kathmanblu didn’t do any running in her debut, and she then got her maiden win in her second start. And then, even though she ran okay off a little bit of a layoff when second in the P.G. Johnson Stakes, that effort just was not as good as her subsequent efforts in the Jessamine, Breeders’ Cup, and Golden Rod when her races were more closely spaced. In other words, Kathmanblu might need an outing before she hits peak stride. Beyond that, it’s doubtful she will be asked to empty her tank what with bigger races in her sights down the road.

I’m going with Excited. Excited also comes into this off a two-month layoff. But the difference here is she already proved she can win off works alone when she overcame a less than ideal trip to win her debut last summer at Saratoga. And Excited ran well in defeat in her subsequent three starts. She was a creditable fourth in the Miss Grillo the day Winter Memories ran absolutely lights out, and followed with a close second in the Good Mood Stakes to Ruthenia, a blue-chip prospect and full sister to multiple graded-stakes winner Rutherienne. Last time out, Excited was upset as the favorite in an allowance race, but she was a gaining second to a winner who got loose through slow fractions. That won’t be a concern Saturday. There is plenty of pace in this race for Excited to launch her rally.

Silverbulletday Stakes

This female counterpart to the Lecomte also failed to attract one of the leaders of the 3-year-old filly division. It is, however, a closely matched affair on paper. Six of the eight earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure either in their most recent outing or two starts back, and there is only a four-point gap between them, ranging from 77 to 73. And the two other entrants who have yet to crack a 70 Beyer aren’t that far off the mark with career bests of 68 and 66. In terms of Beyers, there isn’t much between anyone in here, especially when you consider that these are lightly raced horses still eligible to improve dramatically from one race to the next.

Still, I like Daisy Devine here. Daisy Devine was 40-1 when she upset a solid allowance field at this distance last time out. But that performance validated the sharp form improvement she showed when she got her maiden win in her first start over the track two starts back, a turnaround that can be directly attributed to the addition of blinkers to her equipment. Daisy Devine is backed by a barn that has won an incredible 58 percent of its starts at the meet, and should be forwardly placed near a pace that doesn’t look like it will be all that quick.

Toboggan Stakes

Calibrachoa earned a career-best Beyer of 103 winning the Gravesend Stakes most recently in his first start off the Todd Pletcher claim. For the record, according to DRF’s Formulator, Calibrachoa was only the fourth horse to start over the last five years off a Pletcher claim (although he was one of three in 2010, all for the Repole Stable). He was also only the second to win, and was the first to win a stakes. Calibrachoa should be tough once again, but the setup Saturday might not be exactly the same as it was for the Gravesend – the early pace might not be as hotly contested – and that’s reason enough for me to try and beat him as the favorite.

Temecula Creek is the play. Temecula Creek has worked well since winning his second straight and his sixth race from 10 starts since being claimed by Rudy Rodriguez. The only times he disappointed for his current connections were when he was in with such heavy heads as Majesticperfection, Big Drama, Girolamo, Bribon, and Jersey Town. No matter how hot Calibrachoa is, he is not on a par with those.

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