03/08/2012 12:37PM

Weekend Warrior for March 10: Picks for San Felipe, Tampa Derby, Swale

Benoit & Associates
Liaison, with Rafael Bejarano up, wins the CashCall Futurity.

NEW YORK – No matter where you look Saturday, you will find 3-year-olds competing in stakes events. The richest race in the country is the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, but it is closely followed by the Grade 2, $300,000 San Felipe at Santa Anita, which might be the deepest Kentucky Derby prep run so far this year.

The feature at Gulfstream is the Grade 2, $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap, but the supporting feature, the Grade 2, $150,000 Swale Stakes, is for 3-year-olds. Both stakes at Aqueduct, the Grade 3, $150,000 Cicada for fillies, and the $100,000 Fred “Cappy” Capossela, are for 3-year-olds. One of the two stakes at Oaklawn, the Grade 3, $125,000 Honeybee for fillies, is a 3-year-old race. Even one of the two supporting stakes at Tampa, the $100,000 Suncoast for fillies, is for 3-year-olds. And there are more.

San Felipe Stakes [Watch Live]

This race started making news last Monday when the well-regarded Out of Bounds was withdrawn because of injury, and again on Wednesday when Fed Biz had to pass after tying up. But one thing that has remained constant about this San Felipe is there is a lot of speed in it. American Act has shown high sprint speed in his last two starts. Midnight Transfer has shown positional sprint speed in his last three starts. Tiz Point has shown throughout his career that he wants to be close early, and Bodemeister has shown speed in both of his starts.

The projected pace scenario is especially interesting as it pertains to Bodemeister. Bodemeister will take a lot of money Saturday even if he is stepping up off only a maiden win, because he ran away with that race, and earned a field-best Beyer Speed Figure of 101. Maybe Bodemeister is a monster who doesn’t need the lead or be close early to be effective. But we don’t know that yet. With that big outstanding question, and with the big class jump combined with unappealing odds, I’m going against him and looking at the closers.

First up in that department is Creative Cause. Creative Cause has every right to improve off a close third in the San Vicente in his recent return from a three-month layoff, and he now stretches back out to two turns, around which he won the Grade 1 Norfolk and finished a close third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last fall. But I just wasn’t crazy about Creative Cause’s effort in the San Vicente. Yes, he was taken back early and the pace wasn’t all that fast, but he didn’t finish with the kind of punch I was hoping to see against company he was supposed to outclass.

Empire Way, Creative Cause’s uncoupled stable mate, and Rousing Sermon are two other closers bettors will look at. Empire Way finished second in the Robert Lewis most recently and also has a license to improve. But he got an easy rail run in that race, and finished ahead of several horses who, for whatever reason, failed to show up. Rousing Sermon is one of those horses. I can’t get around his profoundly flat effort in the Lewis, though he did finish well when second in the CashCall Futurity and Real Quiet last fall.

I did give a long look to Blingo. Blingo showed a good closing kick when he won his debut on turf, and was out well past the wire after finishing a rallying sixth in the CashCall. But it’s not the three-month layoff that he brings into this race that bothers me as much as the fear that Blingo will simply be too far back early.

I’m going with Liaison. Liaison was the 3-2 favorite in the Lewis, and was the main offender when it came to turning in a dull performance. It was clear as early as the far turn that Liaison’s win hopes were in deep trouble, and he was going nowhere when he got caught in a squeeze play in the stretch that resulted in him losing his rider. But Liaison was closer to the early pace that day than I expected, and it is interesting that his blinkers come off Saturday. That should help Liaison relax early, and it is also a big move for his barn.

It is possible that the CashCall Futurity that Liaison won late last year (he also won the Real Quiet) was not a strong race in retrospect, but I like how he ran that day. Liaison was in close touch with a strong early pace from the outset, and he held on determinedly. It is interesting to note that the second through sixth finishers in the CashCall were nowhere near that early pace. They were laying 11th, eighth, 10th, ninth, and 12th, respectively, in the first pace call.

Tampa Bay Derby [Watch Live]

Spring Hill Farm is a “talking horse” coming into this spot. Yes, he showed potential winning his first two career starts at Gulfstream, but that and the fact he is trained by Todd Pletcher will make Spring Hill Farm a severe underlay here. That’s especially so when you consider that Spring Hill Farm established easy leads in both of his races, something that shouldn’t happen again Saturday, and yet still didn’t run all that fast Beyer-wise.

The money I anticipate Spring Hill Farm taking makes it possible for me to pick Take Charge Indy, who I think should be an overwhelming favorite, but whose price now might actually be palatable. Take Charge Indy comes into this off by far the best performance anywhere in this field, a second in a quickly run allowance race at Gulfstream to El Padrino, who came back to win the Risen Star with a 98 Beyer. And while it is true that Take Charge Indy might have moved up on a wet track that day, it’s not like he hasn’t run well before. He turned in creditable performances last fall when he was fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity and fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Swale Stakes [Watch Live]

Ever So Lucky was game finishing second in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall off only a debut win, and is very promising. He’s also a favorite who, if he wins, will do so without me. Ever So Lucky didn’t run fast in either of his races, he’s been away three months, he missed his originally scheduled 2012 bow in the Hutcheson, and has had a foot bruise.

I’m talking a shot with Bahamian Squall, who only just won his debut. But he was impressive visually, and he beat a horse who won his next start with an 86 Beyer.