07/14/2011 11:13AM

Weekend Warrior for July 16

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The older female division has been one of the strongest all year. On Saturday, we have a tremendous matchup between the two top members of this group – Havre de Grace and Blind Luck – in the Grade 2, $750,000 Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park.

The Del Cap is the richest race in the country Saturday, but it is followed closely by the Grade 2, $600,000 Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs. The Grade 3, $150,000 Virginia Oaks also will be run at Colonial on Saturday.

Hollywood Park boasts the lone Grade 1 event on Saturday’s schedule, that being the $250,000 American Oaks. The supporting feature at Hollywood is the Grade 2, $200,000 A Gleam Handicap.

A Gleam Handicap

One of the things that struck me when first looking at this race is that for a rich, graded sprint that also happens to be a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, there is a lack of serious speed. Church Camp and Fund Raiser have a bit of positional speed, but they are really pace stalkers. American Story did set the early pace in her last three starts, but they were slow-paced routes.

Given the circumstances, I think Mildly Offensive can be the lone speed here if she wants to be, so I’m taking her to go wire to wire.
Mildly Offensive has a couple of things going against her Saturday. For one, she is a 3-year-old facing older opposition, and it is still a bit early in the year for that. And Mildly Offensive also comes off the first loss of her brief career, although I can forgive her for that. She was coming off a three-month layoff and trying turf for the first time when fourth in the Manhattan Beach Stakes, an outing I believe was really designed to knock the rust off and set her up for this spot.

Mildly Offensive showed real ability winning off on the main track at Santa Anita in her first two career starts, including the Santa Paula Stakes. What’s noteworthy is that Mildly Offensive was involved in fast paces in those races, suggesting she is easily capable of taking control early here. In addition, Mildly Offensive earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 98 winning the Santa Paula in just her second start. Almost every other member of this field has yet to achieve that figure in their much longer careers.

I thought long and hard about going with Tanda here, because I was a fan of her last year, especially after her effort in the Grade 1 Acorn. Tanda managed to finish a close third in the Acorn, despite breaking badly and racing very wide against the grain of a track that favored inside runners. But an ankle chip curtailed her campaign after the Acorn, and I wonder if she’s the same horse now. I wasn’t worried about her first start back this year, because she was coming off a 10-month absence, and I wasn’t bothered by her sixth in the Milady two starts back at a distance she might not want. But I was concerned with the way Tanda squandered a clear stretch lead last time out in the restricted Redondo Beach Stakes.

Despite being up against it pace-wise, I am intrigued with Shotgun Gulch. I’ve made a big deal about how the rail was not good at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day, and Shotgun Gulch ran against the bias in the Humana Distaff on the Derby undercard. She raced in only the two path on the turn and near the rail in the stretch before finishing fifth. Shotgun Gulch upset the Grade 1 Madison two starts back and is in the best form of her career.

Virginia Derby

Banned and Street Game are on win streaks, and no one would be surprised if they ran one-two in this race, in either order. At the same time, neither exactly has to win. Banned was terrific winning the American Turf two starts back, but he had to work surprisingly hard at 1-5 in the Jefferson Cup most recently to turn back a colt who was just a desperate maiden winner and only two other opponents. Street Game ran a relative hole in the wind winning the Hill Prince last time out. But he ran on turf in his four prior starts as well, and yet his Hill Prince Beyer was a startling 16 points higher than his previous best. Even if Street Game wasn’t something of a fluke last time, he could be in line for a form regression.

King Congie is my play. King Congie was not disgraced finishing seventh most recently in the Preakness – a race from which the last three of the 14 finishers all came back to win their next starts – and was beaten only a nose and a head when third in the Blue Grass two starts back. But now King Congie moves back to turf, a surface over which he has yet to be beaten by another opponent, and does so while seemingly a better horse than he was the last time he raced on grass. King Congie’s most recent turf appearance came last February in the Hallandale Beach Stakes, and like he did in the Tropical Park Derby on New Year’s Day, he gamely prevailed. However, he also drifted out through the stretch and was disqualified to third.

Greenwood Cup

Birdrun’s decisive victory last time out in the Brooklyn Handicap makes him the solid favorite in this lucrative, 12-furlong feature at Parx Racing. The thing is, Birdrun controlled a very easy pace in the Brooklyn, and that is unlikely to happen again this time as Chirac and Ponzi Scheme are both quick enough to be pace players. Maybe Birdrun is so much the best here than he can win without the kind of soft trip he had in the Brooklyn. But as the chalk, I’m not eager to find out.

I’ll take a flyer on Ron the Greek. Ron the Greek was the beaten favorite in a good overnight race at Monmouth Park most recently, but his closing style was compromised by a wet surface that appeared kind to speed. He was a good third two starts ago in the strongly run Three Coins Up Stakes at Belmont, and a duplicate of that performance puts him in the mix here.