06/28/2012 11:24AM

Weekend Warrior for June 30: Centralinteligence looks like the smart play


There is a lot of meat on Saturday’s national stakes schedule, beginning with a pair of Grade 1 events at Betfair Hollywood Park – the $300,000 Shoemaker Mile, and the $250,000 Triple Bend Handicap. Belmont Park has a Grade 2, $200,000 stakes doubleheader comprised of the Dwyer and New York Stakes. And Prairie Meadows offers a Grade 3 stakes tripleheader consisting of the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap, the $250,000 Iowa Derby, and the $200,000 Iowa Oaks.

There are also three other Grade 3 stakes Saturday: the $150,000 Chicago Handicap at Arlington, the $100,000 Eatontown at Monmouth Park, and the $100,000 Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs. However, the richest race of the day is one that is not graded, the $400,000 Red Legend at Charles Town.

Triple Bend Handicap

The Factor is the best pure sprinter in the country. He was really good over the winter at Santa Anita, first winning the Malibu and then the San Carlos, in which he beat three next-out winners, including last year’s champion male sprinter Amazombie, who came back to win the Potrero Grande with a Beyer Figure of 106. I also think The Factor should be forgiven for his dud in the Dubai Golden Shaheen in his most recent start three months ago. He was just not himself that night as his vaunted early speed was missing.

Heck, I’m not even concerned about the post-Dubai factor for The Factor. For years, I have maintained that most (not all, but most) American-based horses who ventured to the Dubai World Cup were never the same afterward, and I have the past performance that I think prove it. But I have also felt that phenomenon was specific to the World Cup, and didn’t pertain to the other Dubai Cup night races. Moreover, I think American horsemen have found ways to mitigate the post-Dubai bounce, and the switch of the event to a synthetic surface at Meydan might have helped, too.

But even though we all know that The Factor is much better than he showed in Dubai, the fact remains he is coming off a dull effort, and will be making his first start back since shipping halfway around the globe again. Those considerations, combined with the fact that The Factor’s odds will be short and unappealing, lead me to take a shot against him, although I acknowledge he is certainly capable of winning.

There was a time when Smiling Tiger was every bit the horse The Factor is, and he does return to a surface Saturday over which in three career starts he has won a pair of Grade 1 events, including this race last year, and a Grade 3 stakes. But I wonder if he is the horse he used to be. Yes, Smiling Tiger made up a lot of ground last time out when third in the True North, but that effort looks better on paper than it actually was. The True North fell completely apart in the late stages, and the winner, Caixa Eletronica, actually came from four to five lengths behind Smiling Tiger at the top of the stretch.

But the main concern about Smiling Tiger is the True North was the second straight race he fell out if it early. Smiling Tiger has always been able to win from anywhere on the track. That’s one of the reasons why he has been so good. But it appears he has lost the early speed he has been able to use on demand, and if that’s true, then it’s a telltale sign of decline.

I’m going with Centralinteligence. Centralinteligence’s last two starts, a good win and a very sharp second, came over a five-month span, so it is a good sign of his current well being that he is now putting two starts relatively back to back. More importantly, Centralinteligence’s runner up effort to Roman Threat most recently in the Los Angeles Handicap on its own makes him a threat, but he might get a better set-up this time. Roman Threat got loose early in the Los Angeles, and Centralinteligence had the dirty job of keeping him honest early while also trying to reel him in. This time, Comma to the Top and perhaps Italian Rules might keep The Factor honest early. That would allow Centralinteligence to fall back into a stalking position, which could be his best trip.

Shoemaker Mile

Mr. Commons and Little Mike are the two name horses here. Mr. Commons impressed winning the Sir Beaufort and Arcadia over the winter, and he has a license to improve on his recent return from a freshening. Little Mike, long a force on Gulfstream’s turf, comes into this off an upset of the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Kentucky Derby undercard. But I think both are vulnerable. Mr. Commons showed he still has a touch of hang in him when second at odds-on after good and great trips in his last two, bowing to a 10-1 shot and a 44-1 shot. And Little Mike’s win at Churchill came gift wrapped. In a Turf Classic that looked like it had to have a hot and contested pace, the speedy pair of Get Stormy and Turbo Compressor both decided to rate, leaving Little Mike alone through a slow and uncontested pace.

Suggestive Boy, the highly regarded South American shipper, is my play. Suggestive Boy won 4 of his 6 career starts last year in his native Argentina, and all four scores came in Group 1 events, making him in the minds of many that country’s best horse of 2011. And Suggestive Boy showed he can overcome adversity when he crushed a big field in the Jockey Club Stakes at San Isidro last fall. A look at that race on YouTube showed Suggestive Boy still producing a big kick after getting squeezed back and shut off in the stretch.

Bashford Manor Stakes

Of the three last-out maiden winners who impressed me the most in this stakes for 2-year-olds – Roman’s Avenue, Special Jo, and Circle Unbroken – I like Roman’s Avenue.

Roman’s Avenue was hammered down to 1-5 in his debut and delivered a decisive victory. He did earn the lowest Beyer of the three mentioned above, but that doesn’t bother me as that was a 4 1/2 furlong dash, and figures at that infrequently run distance can be shaky. What impressed me is that Roman’s Avenue, a son of Street Sense, ran as well as he did at such a short distance, and he should only benefit from more ground.