06/16/2011 12:00PM

Weekend Warrior for June 18


The Triple Crown might be over, but that doesn’t mean we have to go through Big Stakes Day withdrawal. In fact, Saturday’s stakes schedule is excellent, with terrific races from one end of the country to the other.

Churchill Downs makes the biggest splash Saturday with the Grade 1, $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap heading a card that also includes three other Grade 3 races – the $125,000 Regret, the $125,000 Matt Winn, and the $100,000 Jefferson Cup. Colonial Downs also has a $500,000 race, the Colonial Turf Cup, which this year is open to older horses, and which is supported by the Grade 3, $100,000 All Along Stakes. And speaking of rich events, Charles Town has one in the $400,000 Red Legend for 3-year-old sprinters.

At the major racing centers, Belmont Park has a stakes doubleheader consisting of the Grade 1, $250,000 Ogden Phipps and the Grade 3, $100,000 Hill Prince. Hollywood Park offers the Grade 1, $250,000 Vanity Handicap, while Monmouth Park hosts the Grade 3, $200,000 Pegasus Stakes.

Stephen Foster Handicap

I have made a big deal about how the rail was dead at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day, and horses who have since run back have supported this belief. The latest example was Stay Thirsty in last week’s Belmont Stakes. Stay Thirsty faded to 12th in the Derby after racing on the rail, but he came back to finish second in the Belmont at 16-1, beaten less than a length. Of course, Stay Thirsty raced with the grain of a track in the Belmont that was kind to horses racing close to the pace, but that’s something we will deal with when all the Belmont Day horses run back.

Somewhat overshadowed by the bias at Churchill on Derby Day is the fact that the rail also really wasn’t a good place to be on Kentucky Oaks Day the day before. It is with that in mind that I’m taking Equestrio here for the upset.

Equestrio is one of four horses in this race coming out of the Alysheba Stakes run on Oaks Day – Regal Ransom, Giant Oak, and Mission Impazible are the others – and he is the only one of this quartet who ran on the rail. In fact, Equestrio ran right on the rail before finally moving out entering the stretch, which makes his third-place finish, beaten a head for all the money, all the more remarkable. He finished just behind Regal Ransom and ahead of Giant Oak, and Mission Impazible, all of whom raced away from the rail in the better part of the track.

I will admit that I’m not quite sure where Equestrio came up with that performance. He was making his stakes debut in the Alysheba, and his biggest prior claim to fame was his upset of Dialed In in that one’s successful prep for the Florida Derby. But I know what I saw, and Equestrio is a lightly raced colt who has worked very well since his last start, so he might just be much improved.

For me, the one to beat in the Foster is Crown of Thorns, who comes into this off a win over the highly regarded Sidney’s Candy in the Mervyn LeRoy. Crown of Thorns’s one career dirt start two back was not good, but he was coming off a six-month layoff, and he trains well enough on dirt at Santa Anita. I also wouldn’t hold his narrow loss in the Goodwood last fall in his one try at nine furlongs against him as he wound up setting the pace by default, and that is not his best running style.

Parx Dash Handicap

This rich turf sprint is the feature at Parx Racing, and it has what I think is a vulnerable favorite in Chamberlain Bridge. Last year, Chamberlain Bridge won the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, and if he was still in his 2010 form, he would be tough to beat here. But Chamberlain Bridge’s three outings this year weren’t nearly as good as his best 2010 performances, and that includes his winning 2011 debut. I just can’t find any excuse for losses in his last two starts, and now you have to wonder if Chamberlain Bridge hasn’t lost a step or two at age 7.

Radiohead is my play. Radiohead’s U.S. form is very interesting. He made his U.S. debut in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and wasn’t disgraced, finishing seventh, beaten four lengths. He was so impressive winning his 3-year-old bow last year that he was 5-2 in the Florida Derby despite drawing a terrible outside post, but he gave way and didn’t race again for six months. When he returned in an overnight turf stakes, he was badly beaten on a bog-like course many horses would have detested, and he disappeared for another eight months. And even though his recent return was successful, it’s hard to get too excited as he beat only two opponents.

But the fact that Radiohead is running back relatively quickly is taken as a good sign of his current condition. I also like that Radiohead is returning to where it all began for him and is sprinting on turf. He sprinted on the turf as a 2-year-old in England, and he won a Group 2 stakes, and placed in two Group 1 events.

Vanity Handicap

This may have attracted only six, but it is a tremendous race with three of the top older females in the country – Switch, Blind Luck, and St Trinians – as well as 2011 Grade 1 winner Miss Match. Switch gave the leading older mare Havre de Grace a battle last time out in the Apple Blossom, but at a shorter distance than this. I really do think Switch, who likes to be close early, is questionable at nine furlongs, even if the anticipated slow pace Saturday is to her advantage. And while Blind Luck is showing signs of rounding to the form that made her last year’s champion 3-year-old filly, the projected slow pace here puts her and her closing kick at a disadvantage.

I like St Trinians. I’m willing to attribute St Trinians’s two mediocre (for her) outings this year at Santa Anita to not liking the dirt surface. On her return to Cushion Track last time out, she was much sharper finishing first in the Milady Handicap (she was subsequently disqualified for stretch interference). And St Trinians doesn’t have to be that far back early, meaning she should get first run at Switch from Blind Luck.