07/07/2011 1:38PM

Weekend Warrior for July 9

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NEW YORK – There is a lot of quality to be found on Saturday’s national stakes schedule. Multiple Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti seeks a return to the winner’s circle in the Grade 1, $600,000 Man o’ War Stakes at Belmont Park, while Twirling Candy, currently the top older male in the country, will be a heavy favorite in the Grade 1, $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park. It’s Summit of Speed Day at Calder Race Course with, as always, the Grade 1, $350,000 Princess Rooney Handicap and the Grade 2, $350,000 Smile Sprint Handicap topping that card. And it is Million Preview Day at Arlington Park, where the Grade 3, $150,000 Arlington Handicap, the Grade 3, $150,000 Modesty Handicap, and the Grade 2, $200,000 American Derby act as the local preps for next month’s Arlington Million, Beverly D., and Secretariat Stakes.

Delaware Oaks

This Grade 2, $300,000 headliner at Delaware Park might not have the name recognition of some of the stakes mentioned above and it attracted a field of only seven. But I like a filly who should be a square price, so it gets the Warrior’s top billing.

I like Snow Fall, who is pegged at 10-1 on the morning line. Snow Fall comes into this off a distant fifth in the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes on the Belmont Stakes undercard, but I’m not going to hold that outing against her. For one, the Acorn was run on a tricky, sticky, muddy, and sealed track, which a lot of horses didn’t care for (possibly Snow Fall included), and which was more speed favoring than anything else. And Snow Fall was up against some formidable company in the Acorn as evidenced by the fact that distant third-place finisher Her Smile, who finished only a little more than three lengths ahead of Snow Fall, came back to win Monday’s Grade 1 Prioress Stakes at Belmont with a 96 Beyer.

Before that, Snow Fall posted a legitimately fast maiden win at Fair Grounds in her first career attempt on dirt and followed with a dominating score in the Pike Creek Stakes over an admittedly small field but over the same track she races Saturday. Those two victories say Snow Fall is faster from a Beyer standpoint than the streaking All for Thee, and yet All for Thee is the 9-5 second choice here on the morning line.

The deserving morning-line favorite here at 7-5 is St. John’s River, who last time out finished second in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, a rapidly diminishing neck short of Plum Pretty. The good news for St. John’s River is the form of the Kentucky Oaks has since held up as third-place finisher Zazu came back to win the recent Hollywood Oaks with a 96 Beyer over Plum Pretty, who was coming off an illness. But unlike Snow Fall, who has positional speed, St. John’s River is a deep closer, and that running style often does not play well at Delaware.

Modesty Handicap

Wasted Tears is one of, if not the, best turf mares in the country, so I don’t blame her connections for stretching her out here to 1 3/16 miles to see if they should point for the Beverly D. at the same distance. But I think this trip is at least a sixteenth of a mile more than what she really wants, so I’m going against her. I’m also leaning against Fantasia. Fantasia hit the board in good graded stakes in all three of her starts this year under a variety of conditions. But when it comes right down to it, she is only 1 for 9 in North America and doesn’t yet have the winning profile I want.

I’m going with Endless Expanse, who comes out of two solid stakes races and won her U.S. debut three starts back. Endless Expanse finished a gaining second two starts back in the Orchid Stakes, ahead of Giants Play who came back to finish a troubled second in the Sheepshead Bay and then won the New York Stakes. And most recently, Endless Expanse finished fifth on a yielding course she might not have liked in the Bewitch Stakes, a race from which three have come back to win stakes in their next starts. I think this shorter distance fits Endless Expanse nicely, and I also like the fact that she is fresh. The last three times Endless Expanse raced fresh, she won.

Arlington Handicap

Mister Marti Gras showed a terrific closing kick winning last time, but he was really intended for last Monday’s Firecracker at Churchill Downs and not this race, so that throws me off his trail. I question whether Dean’s Kitten will get as easy a trip as he did when he won the Dallas Turf Cup most recently. And while Tajaaweed’s form is good, he seems to move either too soon or too late and doesn’t quite get there.

I’m intrigued by Interaction. Interaction, making his U.S. debut in this spot, is placed aggressivesly by New York-based trainer Christophe Clement. Then again, Interaction was nominated to the Man o’ War at Belmont, but Clement has Gio Ponti for that event, so even if it involves a ship, this is a logical alternative for a horse who seems to be well regarded. But Interaction has a license to be a good one. He was 2010 Horse of the Year in his native Argentina, mainly on the strength of his win in South America’s biggest race, the Carlos Pellegrini. Interaction didn’t just win the Pellegrini, however. He dominated. And any horse who can spread-eagle a 22-horse field as Interaction did in the Pellegrini is okay in my book.

A couple of quick stakes picks:

Princess Rooney – Champagne d’Oro has faced much tougher company, the return to a sprint suits her, and her recent works at Santa Anita were excellent. In this instance, the six-month layoff doesn’t bother me.

Man o’ War – Gio Ponti is repeating the pattern that led to his victory in this race last year, but I prefer Cape Blanco. Yes, I know another Aiden O’Brien Irish shipper, Viscount Nelson, was a huge flop in last month’s Manhattan Handicap, but Cape Blanco, a two-time Group 1 winner, is a vastly superior horse.

Hollywood Gold Cup – I really think the only one who can beat Twirling Candy here is Twirling Candy. But I believe that when Setsuko finished second to Twirling Candy in the Californian, he was really prepping for this. And we know Setsuko can get 10 furlongs.