07/25/2013 12:49PM

Weekend Warrior for July 27: Picks for Jim Dandy, San Diego, Diana

Barbara D. Livingston
Mylute should get a faster pace to set up his kick in Saturday's Jim Dandy at Saratoga than he did when finishing third in the Preakness.

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Saratoga is offering $1.5 million in stakes races Saturday in the form of the Grade 1, $600,000 Diana, the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy, and the Grade 1, $300,000 Prioress. Del Mar’s feature is the Grade 2, $200,000 San Diego Handicap, supported by the $200,000 Fleet Treat Stakes for California-bred fillies. The only other graded stakes Saturday is the Grade 3, $100,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown.

Jim Dandy Stakes

I’m still kicking myself for making the rookie mistake of picking Palace Malice second in the Belmont Stakes and not putting him on top. The point is, though, Palace Malice’s 13-1 upset of the Belmont wasn’t as much of a surprise to me as it might have been to others. I thought he ran reasonably well when 12th in the Kentucky Derby after rocketing off with blinkers on and setting an insanely fast early pace. Others who were involved in that wicked early Derby pace had already come back to run well, namely Oxbow and Itsmyluckyday, who finished 1-2 in the Preakness. And with the blinkers off, I thought Palace Malice would relax early in the Belmont and then move. That’s exactly what he did, and he scored decisively.

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That said, the big questions for Palace Malice now are as follows: How much did his Belmont Stakes effort take out of him? And to what extent might he be merely prepping for the race that might prove to be the definitive one in this year’s 3-year-old male division, the Aug. 24 Travers Stakes?

The second question isn’t as much of a concern to me. Beyond believing Palace Malice can win the Jim Dandy even if he isn’t fully cranked up Saturday, I found similar worries last week with another Todd Pletcher-trained horse to be unfounded. I wondered if Princess of Sylmar, who was coming off a planned layoff, was using last Saturday’s Coaching Club American Oaks as practice for the Alabama Stakes later in the meet, and all she did was go out and win the CCA Oaks by six. Some practice.

However, how much the Belmont may have taken out of Palace Malice is cause for pause. By all accounts, Palace Malice is training great for the Jim Dandy. But let’s face it, everyone in the Belmont, including Palace Malice, staggered home. It had to be a draining effort, one the effects of which may not be seen until actual race conditions exist. And though it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison because she’s a filly, Unlimited Budget became the first to start out of the Belmont in last week’s CCA Oaks, and she finished a dismal fifth as the favorite. With this sort of doubt, I can’t endorse taking a big stand with Palace Malice, especially as the favorite.

I’m going with Mylute. In this case, I do have concerns about Mylute using the Jim Dandy as a mere prep. Mylute passed the Belmont Stakes with an eye toward a summer/fall campaign, so he hasn’t raced since the Preakness. And his workouts for this have been slow, although looking back on his career published works, he has rarely been a fast work horse. But I’m still going with Mylute because I thought his third in the Preakness was terrific, and in fact, the best race anyone in this field has ever run.

As everyone knows, the pace in the Preakness was very slow. Oxbow stole that race when allowed an uncontested lead. Under the circumstances, Mylute had an impossible task attempting to rally from last at Pimlico, but he gave it an excellent try, gaining steadily through the stretch to be beaten only a little more than two lengths while finishing almost seven lengths ahead of Kentucky Derby winner Orb. On Saturday, Mylute gets a much more favorable pace scenario with Moreno and Freedom Child likely to conspire for lively early fractions.

I also think Vyjack – who was cross-entered in Sunday’s Haskell Invitational at Monmouth – might produce a much improved effort. Vyjack was a player in that destructive early Derby pace, and the Belmont Stakes last time out, in which he was wide all the way, was just the wrong spot for him. Vyjack can be in the mix if he gets back to his close third three starts back in the Wood Memorial behind Verrazano and Normandy Invasion.

San Diego Handicap

I don’t like picking against Paynter. Heck, I picked Paynter in last year’s Belmont Stakes when I’ll Have Another was still in that race. Paynter is a special talent, and I was as struck as anyone by his brilliant comeback this year from a near-fatal illness. But Paynter likes to operate close to the lead, and the pace here could be demanding. This also will be his first start on Del Mar’s Polytrack, and while there is little reason to think he won’t handle it, the fact is, he hasn’t done it yet. So I’m taking Kettle Corn for the upset.

Yes, I know that when Kettle Corn finished a surprising second to Game On Dude in the Hollywood Gold Cup last time out, he pulled 11 pounds from the winner, who was not all out, and he got a sweet rail run. Still, Kettle Corn had no business to run as well as he did (and he was beaten only one length) because the pace was very slow and unfavorable to his closing style. Clearly, Kettle Corn raised his game most recently with blinkers on for the first time in his busy career. He gets a better pace set up this time, and he likes Del Mar’s main track.

Diana Stakes

Stephanie’s Kitten will take a ton of beating here. True, her two wins this year, the two best performances of her career from a Beyer Figure standpoint, came on off turf courses, and she will get firm footing Saturday. But Stephanie’s Kitten ran well on firm turf at Saratoga last year, when she was much the best beating Centre Court in the Lake Placid. Still, I think Centre Court can beat Stephanie’s Kitten on Saturday.

While Stephanie’s Kitten was getting a perfect rail trip winning the Just a Game last time out, Centre Court was having an awful journey, getting blocked at a crucial point late on the far turn and into the stretch. I also wonder if Centre Court was at home racing on yielding going for the first time. But Centre Court showed two starts back when she won the Jenny Wiley how much improved she is this year, and she can get first jump on Stephanie’s Kitten this time.