05/31/2012 2:26PM

Weekend Warrior for June 2, 2012: Gleaming should improve off tough trip in last

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It’s not surprising, considering they are wedged between Memorial Day and Belmont Stakes Day, but Saturday’s stakes have a bad case of “short field-itis.”

The Grade 2, $200,000 Vagrancy Handicap at Belmont Park has only seven entered, with six betting interests. The Grade 2, $150,000 Californian at Betfair Hollywood Park drew a field of only five. The $300,000 Nassau Stakes at Woodbine and the $100,000 Campanile Stakes at Golden Gate also went with fields of just seven, as did the $65,000 Meafara at Arlington.

The Weekend Warrior likes to spread the joy around. But due largely to field size, for the first time ever, this week the Warrior will focus on one track, and use the three $100,000 stakes to be run under the lights at Churchill Downs. Those races are the Winning Colors, which lured eight; the Aristides, which also went with eight; and the Early Times Mint Julep Handicap, which, with a field of nine, is a comparative embarrassment of riches. This happens to be the program order of these stakes, and that’s the order we will take them in.

Winning Colors Stakes

Good Deed might be a 3-year-old facing older, which is a big deal even at this stage of the season, but she is a logical contender. Good Deed was a game second last time out in the Eight Belles Stakes on Kentucky Oaks Day to Contested, who came back to romp in last Monday’s Grade 1 Acorn, earning a 101 Beyer Figure. And now, Good Deed is suitably cutting back from seven furlongs to the six furlongs at which she dominated the Prima Donna Stakes two starts back.

But age isn’t what concerns me about Good Deed on Saturday night. Good Deed likes to be on or right with the early lead, but Page Springs looks like she is going to take Good Deed out of her game. Page Springs is overmatched, but she does have ridiculous early speed. She is only three one-hundredths of a second away from being able to claim that she has gone sub-22 second opening quarters in all seven of her career starts.

Gleaming and Beat the Blues, two of trainer Bret Calhoun’s three uncoupled entrants in here (Speedacious is the other), are well positioned to take advantage of the pace scenario. Beat the Blues and Gleaming finished first and third, last time out in the Carousel Stakes. But even with that finish, and despite the fact that Beat the Blues has better back form – she was a narrowly beaten second in this race last year to the Grade 1 winner Sassy Image, and finished second in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss at Saratoga last summer – I’m going with Gleaming.

Beat the Blues had the most perfect trip a horse could ask for in the Carousel, stalking the pace on the rail, and then having an opening appear on the inside in upper stretch big enough for three horses. Gleaming, on the other hand, was caught three to four wide throughout, and fought on to deep stretch before being nosed for second. It is just against my nature to take a horse off a dream trip win. And while it is true Gleaming’s back form isn’t as good as Beat the Blues’s, her two stakes wins prior to the Carousel were the best performances of her career, and she is much improved.

Aristides Stakes

He won’t be a great price, but Rothko looks like a strong play here. Rothko faced the top-class, multiple Grade 1 winner The Factor in his last two starts, finishing second to him in the Grade 1 Malibu, and then fifth behind him in the San Carlos. Rothko’s San Carlos finish shouldn’t be held against him. He pressed the pace that day, and is much more effective when allowed to settle early. Rothko makes his first start in more than three months Saturday night, but he runs well fresh, and he returns to a track over which he won big at the distance last fall, albeit in the mud.

Noble’s Promise won this race last year, and his recent form is darkened. He needed his first start off a layoff three starts back, and he caught mud last time out, which he doesn’t seem to like. However, two starts back, Noble’s Promise was a decent third to Successful Dan, who came back to win the Alysheba with a 110 Beyer. I just think Rothko is the better horse.

Early Times Mint Julep Handicap

Tapitsfly, who might pass this race for next week’s Just a Game on the Belmont undercard, is currently one of the better grass mares around, although cynics would say that is more a comment on the state of the female turf division than it is an endorsement of Tapitsfly. Either way, Tapitsfly was a sharp second most recently in the Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile on Kentucky Derby Day, was a close third in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley two starts back, and won the Honey Fox Stakes three starts back. But Tapitsfly is only 2 for her last 13, and a lack of pace in this race suggests she will be on or right with the early lead. These days, I don’t think that is her most effective running style.

Snow Top Mountain is my pick. Snow Top Mountain threw in a dud last time out when seventh in the Hillsborough, but was freshened up for three months, and has a history of running well off the bench. She overcame a slow pace two starts back to win the Suwanee River Stakes, beating Hit It Rich, who came back to win the Orchid Stakes, and who was second in last Saturday’s Sheepshead Bay to the high class Aruna. And now, Snow Top Mountain returns to a turf course on which she is a multiple winner.

I also respect Hard Seven. Hard Seven surprised finishing third in a pair of Grade 2 grass stakes at Santa Anita in her last two starts, most recently in the Santa Barbara Handicap to Capital Plan, who was third in last Monday’s Gamely to a potential monster in Belle Royale. Hard Seven has the positional speed to be a pace factor, and that is a good thing for her.