05/30/2013 12:17PM

Weekend Warrior for June 1: Picks for Mountainview, Opening Verse, Pennsylvania Governor's Cup

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Barbara Weidl/Equi-Photo
Easter Gift, coming off an allowance win at Parx, may still have room to improve coming into the Mountainview Handicap at Penn National.

Management at Penn National saw a need for a lucrative turf event for 3-year-olds, and a soft spot on the stakes calendar. As a result of that inspired thinking, Penn National’s brand new $500,000 Penn Mile, which attracted a solid field of eight, rates as Saturday’s marquee event. There are also six other stakes Saturday evening at Penn National, highlighted by the $250,000 Mountainview Handicap, and the $150,000 Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup Handicap.

There are two graded stakes on Saturday – the Grade 2, $150,000 Californian at Betfair Hollywood Park, and the Grade 3, $100,000 Aristides at Churchill Downs.

Mountainview Handicap

Rattlesnake Bridge sports some class lines that few others in this race can match. He finished second in the Travers and was beaten only a little more than five lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But those outings were in 2011. And after he missed all of 2012, determining where Rattlesnake Bridge is now is more important than being distracted by the heady company he kept in the past.

To his credit, Rattlesnake Bridge won an overnight race at Gulfstream in March in his return from a near 17-month absence. However, he was in an extended drive to get the job done, and that sort of draining effort off such a long layoff can tend to compromise a horse’s form in his next start or two. Indeed, Rattlesnake Bridge regressed last time out in the Westchester. Although the Westchester was a very fast race and he finished behind such top older horses as Flat Out and Cross Traffic, it was really a matter of someone having to be third, and Rattlesnake Bridge was beaten more than 11 lengths. But even if Rattlesnake Bridge is ready for a rebound right now, his recent form doesn’t look that much better than some others, so there is not a lot of appeal taking him as the probable favorite.

Pants On Fire is the only one in here who can rival Rattlesnake Bridge’s past class lines. Pants On Fire won the Louisiana Derby and was beaten less than eight lengths when ninth in the 2011 Kentucky Derby. And Pants On Fire comes out of a third, albeit a distant one, in a particularly hot running of Gulfstream’s Skip Away, from which runner-up Take Charge Indy came back to be a most impressive winner of the Alysheba with a 109 Beyer Figure. But even though Pants On Fire’s Louisiana Derby win came at the same nine furlongs he must go Saturday evening, virtually everything he has done since strongly suggests he much prefers distances near a mile.

Easter Gift strikes me as the “now” horse in this field, and he is my play. Easter Gift showed real potential last year, finishing a narrowly beaten second in the Pegasus after winning his first two career starts, and running away with the Smarty Jones. But he has showed improved consistency this year since moving into Chad Brown’s barn, winning two straight after finishing second in his seasonal bow to Swagger Jack, subsequent winner of the Grade 1 Carter Handicap. Easter Gift’s most recent score was particularly eye-catching as he crushed a solid field at Parx that included 2011 Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice, and he looks to have room for even more improvement.

Opening Verse Stakes

This is the supporting feature at Churchill, and an interesting betting race. Whenever I see a top trainer persevere with an old class horse whose recent form suggests he might be done dealing, I always take a second look.

In this case, the top trainer is Chuck Lopresti, and the old class horse is Turallure, who in 2011 won the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile and was nosed in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Turallure’s 2012 finale last summer and his two starts this year on paper look miles away of his previous best races. Even taking into account that he was coming off a long layoff, I didn’t like the way Turallure retreated late in his first start this season. On the other hand, I can make an excuse for his last, which looks even worse on paper, as he was hard held off a very slow pace, leaving him with little chance. Nevertheless, Lopresti perseveres, and Turallure continues to work well. But in the end, I’m picking against him because there is very little speed in this race, and Turallure needs some pace to assist his late run.

I like Corporate Jungle. Corporate Jungle found himself last year, winning the Appleton and Elkwood and finishing second to Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Fourstardave. He was also sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita, beaten a little more than three lengths in a creditable performance considering he had no previous experience on the downhill course. Corporate Jungle will be making his first start since the Breeders’ Cup seven months ago and for a new trainer, Tom Proctor, but I’m not concerned about the layoff. Proctor had Marketing Mix ready to win last Monday’s Grade 1 Gamely off a Breeders’ Cup layoff. In fact, I like that Corporate Jungle is fresh because fresh horses often show a bit more speed, and I think that means Corporate Jungle will be reasonably close early to likely pacesetter Silver Max.

Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup

Picking against Ben’s Cat is akin to banging your head against a brick wall. With an amazing career record of 21 wins from 31 starts, Ben’s Cat has made a lot of people pay for picking and betting against him. Brick wall, here I come. I will take a shot against Ben’s Cat because his two turf starts at Penn National weren’t quite as good as his races elsewhere, so maybe it’s not his favorite grass course. He is meeting a better field than the one he inhaled last time out at Pimlico, and he’s marooned in the 11 hole, which I don’t think is a good draw for him,

I’m going with Chamberlain Bridge. Chamberlain Bridge seems to be enjoying a resurgence this year at age 9. He was a remarkable third in the Colonel Power two back after an awful start that saw him break about eight lengths slow, and he proved that effort was no fluke when he just missed in the Turf Sprint on the Kentucky Derby undercard. When right, Chamberlain Bridge is Ben’s Cat’s equal.