06/27/2013 5:05PM

Weekend Warrior for June 29, 2013: Picks for Chicago Handicap, Iowa Oaks, Firecracker

Barbara D. Livingston
Aubby K (second from right), coming off a win in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff, appears to be a vulnerable favorite trying Polytrack for the first time in the Chicago Handicap.

Although there are a pair of graded stakes this week at both Belmont and Betfair Hollywood Park, the races most intriguing to this week’s Weekend Warrior fall at some of the mid-level and smaller tracks from across the country.

From Arlington to Churchill to Prairie Meadows, there is good stakes wagering aplenty. So here goes, starting with a graded stakes from Arlington Park.

Chicago Handicap

A seven-furlong, Grade 3 race, the Chicago Handicap would have a clear-cut choice if the race was run on dirt – Grade 1 Humana Distaff winner Aubby K.

Of course, it’s not. It’s being run on the all-weather Polytrack at Arlington, a surface over which Aubby K has no experience. And being a dirt horse, and not having been tested on synthetic in eight prior starts, one has to wonder if her connections are trying the race more out of timing to prepare for Saratoga, than of the belief that racing on Polytrack will prove her calling.

She seems a vulnerable favorite.

Take Aubby K out of the mix, and there are few in here that have established themselves as true graded-quality horses. But having watched Cozze Up Lady compete at a high level this spring in Kentucky, both on Polytrack and turf, she may have the potential to become such a filly

Kicking off her 2013 season with a win going 6 1/2 furlongs at Keeneland on the Polytrack on April 6, Cozze Up Lady ran second after dueling for the lead in a third-level allowance on the turf at Churchill and then won at that level when rated in the early stages.

The three performances earned her Beyer Speed Figures ranging from 87 to 91, ranking her among the fastest fillies in the race.

Her last start, coming May 27 at Churchill, also bears watching. In that race, Cozze Up Lady seemed to coast upon making the lead in midstretch, only to quicken away from a fast-closing Dame Marie when that rival came to her in the stretch.

Miguel Mena, who rode her to victory last out and who has a 23 percent win record riding for trainer Bret Calhoun in 2012-13, comes in from Kentucky for the mount.

Iowa Oaks

The Oaks, the first of three stakes on a banner night of racing at Prairie Meadows, appears to be the best wagering stakes race on that card.

Due to the presence of some high-profile connections associated with So Many Ways and Fiftyshadesofhay, there should be no shortage of quality prices available on the eight other fillies entered.

So Many Ways has hometown girl and successful owner Maggi Moss and three-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel in her corner, while Fiftyshadesofhay has trainer Bob Baffert, whose horses are always popular at the betting windows.

It seems that at smaller tracks, when these big names show up, bettors see stars in their eyes and overbet those horses.

So the price-based alternative is Gold Medal Dancer, an 8-1 shot ridden by local jockey Alex Birzer.

A winner of her first two starts, Gold Medal Dancer disappointed with a ninth in the Eight Belles on Derby Day, but rebounded with a much-improved second in a swiftly run second-level allowance June 6 at Churchill in her first race around two turns and going 1 1/16 miles.

Beyond the experience she gained from racing a route for the first time in that race, there are other reasons to like Gold Medal Dancer.

Not only did she run a Beyer last time out that is competitive in the field, an 81, Gold Medal Dancer favorably shows a pattern that points to the potential for a new top. Her last race nearly matched her career-best figure, an 83, posted in winning her first start of the year at Oaklawn.

In speed-figure speak she “paired,” or relatively matched her best figure, and with a lightly raced 3-year-old, that often signals a move forward.

Trainer Donnie Von Hemel also adds blinkers to her, so he must feel the shades can result in improvement.

Fiftyshadesofhay is the primary threat to the selection, but she was a favorable-trip winner of the Black-Eyed Susan. As for So Many Ways, she gives the impression of a filly who prefers sprinting to routing.

Firecracker Handicap

Last up of the major stakes Saturday night is the Firecracker, a race featuring reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan, who carries 128 pounds, most in the history of the race.

Regardless of spotting his opponents from 11 to 15 pounds, Wise Dan still ought to dominate the Firecracker. He simply towers over the opposition at expected odds of 1-5.

That doesn’t mean the race isn’t a good wagering race. If one can hit the exacta with any horse but Lea, the second betting choice, there is the potential for a nice return, given the short price on Wise Dan.

I will try to do just that, playing a Wise Dan-Seruni exacta.

Seruni, at 15-1 on the line, ran fourth in a swiftly run Hanshin at Arlington last month on Polytrack, a surface on which he has yet to win in four starts, and is now returned to the Churchill grass, where he has repeatedly performed well.

This horse was second in both the Opening Verse and Firecracker last year at Churchill, and based on how he ran on the dirt at Churchill two starts ago, in which he earned a 104 Beyer, he is faster this year than last.

Because he is 15-1 on the line, he even warrants a small win play in addition to his second-slot exacta use – if by some odd chance Wise Dan doesn’t run to expectations. The reward is simply too great to not have at least a little dough riding on that as implausible as a Wise Dan loss seems.