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Weekend Warrior for March 17: Big class drop benefits Groupie Doll in Inside Information
Its feature race isn’t even graded, and is worth a relatively modest $150,000. But all eyes will still be on Fair Grounds on Saturday as 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace begins her 5-year-old campaign in the $150,000 New Orleans Ladies Stakes. Somehow, the Fair Grounds racing office rounded up four intrepid opponents for Havre de Grace.
Short field-itis also affects the day’s lone Grade 1 event, the $300,000 Santa Margarita at Santa Anita. Only five were entered against the streaking Ellafitz. Supporting the Santa Margarita is a traditional Santa Anita St. Patrick’s Day offering, the $100,000 Irish O’Brien Stakes.
Oaklawn Park boasts the richest race of the weekend, the Grade 2, $500,000 Rebel, the local stepping-stone to the Arkansas Derby. The Rebel is backed by the Grade 3, $150,000 Azeri Stakes.
Musical Romance stretches back out to the seven-furlong distance at which she upset the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint last fall, a victory that propelled her to a divisional championship. Yet, there will be plenty of bettors skeptical about her win chances in this spot.
While it is true that Musical Romance was a step slow out of the gate and steadied momentarily on the far turn in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint, her one start since the Breeders’ Cup, those factors really weren’t excuse enough for her soundly beaten fourth-place finish. For one, Musical Romance couldn’t keep in contact with the early pace. Granted, the pace was fast, but Musical Romance has seen fast fractions before and has frequently managed to stay within reasonable striking distance of them. The other thing is, Musical Romance showed very little late run, and now, after five career starts on the Gulfstream main track, she has yet to finish even as close as third. It could be that she simply doesn’t like the track.
Her Smile will be a popular alternative to Musical Romance here. Her Smile, a close third to Musical Romance in the Breeders’ Cup, had a four-wide trip when third as the 4-5 favorite in the Hurricane Bertie Stakes in her recent return from a three-month break, and first start for new connections. But while Her Smile’s ground loss in the Hurricane Bertie was significant, she also gave way late. If I were to take anyone out of the Hurricane Bertie, it would be the winner, R Holiday Mood. R Holiday Mood set the Hurricane Bertie pace under a hammerlock, and will be the controlling speed once again.
But I like Groupie Doll because she is taking what I consider to be a massive class drop. Groupie Doll ran in the Sabin Stakes most recently and after contesting the pace between horses, she was unable to keep up with Awesome Maria late. There is no shame in that. Awesome Maria is a brilliant mare, perhaps every bit the equal of Havre de Grace, and she was so good on the day of the Sabin that few could have kept up with her. That includes Royal Delta, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner and champion 3-year-old filly, who only got up in the last stride of the Sabin to nail Groupie Doll for second. And two starts back, on the heels of a strong score in her first start of the Gulfstream meet, Groupie Doll gave the Grade 1 stakes-winning male Boys At Toscanova all he could handle.
Groupie Doll is turning back in distance Saturday from longer races, a move I like in seven-furlong sprints. But Groupie Doll is no stranger to this distance. She was a close second in two seven-furlong stakes last year, and might have been the best horse on both occasions. It is also worth noting that while Groupie Doll came from way back in those stakes, she has shown much improved speed this year. And a bullet half-mile work last Saturday suggests that Groupie Doll will be in close contact early here.
This headliner at Laurel for 3-year-olds won’t have any impact on the Kentucky Derby, but who knows, it might produce a Preakness horse or two. In any event, I like Raconteur. I’m drawing a line through Raconteur’s seventh in the Gotham most recently because Hansen just dominated that race, and there are certainly no Hansens in here. Raconteur did win two straight before that, and in the second of those two, he beat two next-out winners while earning a Beyer Figure that is very competitive for this spot. And while it is true that Hakama, who is also in this race, beat Raconteur at Aqueduct in December, Hakama controlled the pace that day. The pace set-up Saturday is different, and more in favor of Raconteur’s stalker/closer style.
A quick word about Street Life, who is a live horse here if he doesn’t instead start Saturday at Aqueduct. Street Life won by open lengths and eased up last time out, but his trouble line doesn’t say that. It reads, “altered course twice, up,” but Street Life’s trip wasn’t nearly as severe as that comment implies. Street Life merely steered around one horse and inside another in the stretch while he was inhaling his field. He didn’t steady and angle out, or in, for racing room.
Arena Elvira has won four straight stakes and five of her last six starts, and the fact that she is making her first start since taking the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap four months ago isn’t an issue as she has repeatedly run well fresh. But while Arena Elvira might be much the best horse here, I think she’s running into a tough entry in Dash Dot Dash and Canadian Mistress.
Canadian Mistress faded to fourth after setting the pace in that Sabin Stakes won so impressively by Awesome Maria, and was disqualified from a first-place finish at Gulfstream two starts back. But it is Dash Dot Dash I find particularly intriguing. Dash Dot Dash was in stellar form in the summer of 2010, only to disappear for 20 months before returning in a completely unsuitable spot against males at Gulfstream early this month. Dash Dot Dash came back in the same race as Louisiana Derby winner Pants On Fire and Florida Derby winner Dialed In, and if that wasn’t bad enough, she broke through the gate before the start, which is almost always the kiss of death. But Dash Dot Dash probably got what she needed from the outing after showing good speed, and is primed for a big step forward.