06/23/2011 1:51PM

Weekend Warrior for June 25


Saturday night’s all right at Prairie Meadows as that track presents its biggest card of the year, featuring three Grade 3 stakes events – the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap, the $250,000 Iowa Derby, and the $200,000 Iowa Oaks.

The Iowa Oaks is one of a few important 3-year-old filly races Saturday. The Grade 1, $250,000 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park is the richest of them, but the Grade 2, $150,000 Hollywood Oaks at Hollywood Park drew a strong if small field. And the feature at Monmouth Park, the Grade 3, $150,000 Boiling Springs Stakes scheduled for turf, also is for 3-year-old fillies.

Boiling Springs Stakes

When I first glanced at this field, I thought I would have to land on Summer Soiree. After all, if I could pick Summer Soiree in the Kentucky Oaks – she rewarded me with a tired 10th-place finish – I could certainly go back to her in this much easier spot. And even though Summer Soiree will be making her turf debut, a huge win two starts back on Polytrack in the Bourbonette Stakes suggests she should handle a switch to grass. But Summer Soiree is a front-runner, and War Prospector and My Sunshine Gal have enough early speed to seriously compromise her chances.

Artisanal is certainly an obvious win candidate, having won three straight, including the Little Silver Stakes over the course most recently. Artisanal came home strongly in the Little Silver, getting her last quarter-mile in a fast 22.58 seconds, the exact same final quarter she ran in her maiden win at Gulfstream three starts back. But Artisanal had an absolutely perfect rail trip in the Little Silver, and if I was going to try anyone out of that race, it would probably be Oak Marsh. Oak Marsh was three wide on the first turn and made a nice four-wide move on the far turn before fading to fourth. The problem with her is, she’s had six starts and has yet to crack the 80 Beyer Speed Figure level.

Not entirely satisfied with the locals, I decided to opt for a new face in Pontenuovo, who along with Janicellaine will be making her U.S. debut Saturday. Pontenuovo’s European form is much superior to Janicellaine’s and is actually quite strong. She recorded her first career win in a Group 3 stakes at Deauville last summer and then made her last two starts at 2 against males. The first of those, the Group 1 Darley Prix Morny, also at Deauville, was an especially noteworthy performance. Pontenuovo finished third of 11 in that race, beaten less than two lengths by Dream Ahead. Dream Ahead won two Group 1 races last year to rank as one of Europe’s very best juvenile males, and his only two losses came to the undefeated Frankel, widely considered to be the best 3-year-old in the world. Even Pontenuovo’s one outing this year was good as she finished fourth of 14 in a Group 3 event at Newbury.

Pontenuovo is first-time Lasix on Saturday and has the successful trainer-jockey combination of Patrick Biancone and Joe Bravo going for her. Also, the showery weather that has prevailed in the Northeast the last few days could provide Pontenuovo with the off footing she is familiar with.

Mother Goose Stakes

There was hope that this edition of the Mother Goose was going to be special, with a battle between impressive Black-Eyed Susan Stakes winner Royal Delta and Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty. Unfortunately, Royal Delta has a foot bruise and won’t race until Saratoga, and Plum Pretty was not shipped to New York from Southern California after coming up sick, although she was entered in the Hollywood Oaks.

So, Joyful Victory becomes the marquee filly in this race after finishing fourth as the 2-1 favorite in the Kentucky Oaks. I’ll let her beat me. Joyful Victory’s Kentucky Oaks performance is a tricky read, because for a good part of the race she ran on the rail, which I thought was the deeper part of the track. But Joyful Victory did come off the rail on the far turn in the Oaks. Yet once she got out in the better footing, she really had no punch. In addition, the two Oaklawn Stakes romps that made Joyful Victory the chalk at Churchill were in slow times over suspect opposition.

I like Buster’s Ready, who continued her improving trend with a strong, if slightly surprising, second in the Black-Eyed Susan. Buster’s Ready had a hard trip in that Pimlico event, racing three wide around both turns while laying close to a fast early pace. Royal Delta, meanwhile, sat a dream trip off the hot pace, saving much more precious ground. Despite the difference in trips, Buster’s Ready was dead game challenging Royal Delta to the late stages. It should be noted that by virtue of her win in the Black-Eyed Susan, Royal Delta is now considered one of the top 3-year-old fillies in the country.

Cornhusker Handicap

This is a wide-open betting race if you can get around morning-line favorite Awesome Gem, and I can make a case against him. While I tip my hat to Awesome Gem for running as well as he has lately at age 8, his win last time out in the Lone Star Park Handicap means he will be attempting to do something Saturday night that he has not accomplished in 38 starts dating back to fall 2006, and that is win two straight races. Can Awesome Gem do it? Possibly. Do I want to try and get him to do this as the favorite? No.

I’m taking a flyer here with Victory Pete. Victory Pete was in deep most recently in the Californian when up against Twirling Candy, the top older male in the nation. He also wound up contesting the pace, which is not the way he wants to run. And two starts back, Victory Pete narrowly missed to Red Sun, who I still believe is a Grade 1 turf miler waiting to happen. Victory Pete is not overmatched here class wise, and he has blinkers off, which suggests he can relax while still being forwardly placed early. And while Victory Pete is something of an unknown on dirt, he has won on Hollywood’s Cushion Track, which many feel is closer to dirt than any other synthetic surface.