07/18/2013 2:50PM

Weekend Warrior for July 20: Picks for Eddie Read, CCA Oaks, My Princess Jess

Barbara D. Livingston
My Happy Face looks to offer the best value among the contenders in the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga.

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NEW YORK – The first Saturday of the summer’s boutique race meetings at Del Mar and Saratoga finds Grade 1 events at both tracks, as well as an important Grade 1 race at Delaware Park.

At Del Mar, the feature is the $300,000 Eddie Read Stakes, supported by the $90,000 Osunitas Stakes. At Saratoga, where one will have to keep an eye to the sky for potentially severe thunderstorms that will break the heat wave gripping the east, the $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks is the main event, backed up by the Grade 3, $200,000 Shuvee Handicap, and the $100,000 My Princess Jess Stakes. At Delaware, two-time champion Royal Delta will try to get back to peak form in the $750,000 Delaware Handicap, and with three bullet workouts since her unsuccessful return in the Fleur de Lis, the thinking here is she will.

Eddie Read Stakes

Barocci has won two of his last three starts, and his inside draw here puts him in position to get a nice ground-saving pocket trip. Sofast has some back races in France that strongly suggest he is properly spotted in his U.S. debut. And Jeranimo looks like he’s cycling back to the form that enabled him to dominate the San Gabriel three starts back, as well as win the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if any one of these three won this race, but I’m going in a different direction. I like Lucayan, not only because I believe he’s good enough to win this, but also because an ugly looking running line in his last start, one that I can make a bit of an excuse for, might make him an overlay.

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Lucayan made his last start in this year’s edition of the Shoemaker Mile, in which he had the unenviable task of tangling with Obviously. Obviously is currently no worse than the second-best turf miler in the country behind Horse of the Year Wise Dan, and if that isn’t tough enough, Obviously was loose on an uncontested lead in the Shoemaker. Not surprisingly, Lucayan was no match, and after racing prominently to the stretch, he tired to finish a well-beaten last of five.

But here’s the thing: No one else really went early in the Shoemaker, and with it being a small field, anyway, Lucayan found himself being a more forward early factor than usual. I suspect that is not the way he prefers to run. In his U.S. debut in the American Handicap two starts back, Lucayan came from farther back and finished a game second to Obviously, who shook loose on an uncontested lead on that day, too. And in his best performances earlier in his career in his native France, including an upset victory in the Group 1 French 2000 Guineas, Lucayan was a mid-pack closer.

On Saturday, in this larger Eddie Read field that does not include Obviously, I expect Lucayan to drop back and make one late run, a style that did pretty well on the turf at Del Mar opening day on Wednesday. Moreover, in this country, the Read’s nine-furlong distance might prove to be right in Lucayan’s wheelhouse.

Coaching Club American Oaks

Princess of Sylmar and Unlimited Budget will take some beating as the first two favorites. Princess of Sylmar posted a 38-1 upset in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks last time out, but that performance was no fluke. She was pace- and trip-compromised two starts back when second to subsequent Grade 1 Mother Goose winner Close Hatches in the Gazelle, and she won four straight before that. As for Unlimited Budget, she was undefeated in four starts before finishing third in the Kentucky Oaks after racing much closer to the strong early pace than Princess of Sylmar, and she was not disgraced when finishing sixth of 14 against males in the Belmont Stakes most recently.

As strong as Princess of Sylmar and Unlimited Budget are in this spot, there are still questions about them. Princess of Sylmar got a perfect pace setup in the Kentucky Oaks, one that she might not get this time. And while her freshening since then was planned, it’s fair to wonder if she might not peak in the Alabama later in the Saratoga meet. The issue with Unlimited Budget is how she rebound from her outing in the Belmont. Everyone staggered home in the Belmont, and it had to be a taxing outing for her.

I’m going with My Happy Face. My Happy Face has been pointing to this race for a long time, and I really liked the way she won last time out in her first start for trainer Chad Brown, earning a career-best Beyer Figure off a five-month layoff, a figure I feel she is poised to improve. My Happy Face won from Albany to Lake George over the Saratoga main track last summer, and she is capable of controlling the pace, too. And if Cue the Moon, with blinkers on, decides to fire early, then My Happy Face proved in her last start that she can also press and win.

My Princess Jess Stakes

Although there is at least a chance of thunderstorms every day this week in Saratoga Springs, the heavy stuff is supposed to come on Saturday. Here’s hoping that it doesn’t hit until after the card is over, and that this turf race goes as scheduled, because I want another shot with Caroline Thomas.

Caroline Thomas has run into one tough trip after another. She was four wide on the far turn when a narrowly beaten third in the Sweetest Chant Stakes four starts back. She was hurt by a slow pace and serious stretch trouble in the Herecomesthebride three starts back. She was compromised by a slow pace and a near three-month layoff in the Sands Point two starts back. And despite encountering a ridiculously slow pace last time out in the Bit of Whimsy Stakes, Caroline Thomas finished with a rush to come out on the short end of a three-way photo.