03/24/2011 11:45AM

Weekend Warrior for March 26


Saturday is by far the biggest day of the year at Fair Grounds, with the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby heading an excellent card that includes five other stakes. Among the undercard stakes are three other Grade 2 events, the $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks, the $400,000 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap, and the $400,000 New Orleans Handicap.

Saturday is also the biggest day of the year at Turfway Park, with the Grade 3, $500,000 Vinery Racing Spiral topping a card that includes four other stakes, most notably the Grade 3, $100,000 Bourbonette Oaks, and the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes.

The other graded stakes on Saturday’s schedule are the Grade 3, $150,000 Pan American at Gulfstream Park, and the Grade 3, $100,000 Tokyo City Cup at Santa Anita.

Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap

Where you go in this race depends largely on what you think about the pair who come out of the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap – Smart Bid and Battle of Hastings – and the quartet who come out of the local prelude to this event, the Fair Grounds Handicap – Expansion, Sleepless Knight, Workin for Hops, and Joinem. I lean against both groups. The Gulfstream Turf Handicap was not a true Grade 1 race, as evidenced by the fact that the 25-1 upset winner, Teaks North, could only manage a fifth last Saturday in the Tampa Bay Stakes, a softer spot than this one. As for those exiting the Fair Grounds Cap, they are coming out of a race that was a scramble at the finish, and which was a cut below even the Gulfstream Turf Cap.

This is a good spot for a new face, and Moryba fits the bill. Moryba showed class, not to mention a good late kick, when he won a solid overnight race at Gulfstream in his U.S. debut. Moryba is backed by a top trainer in Bill Mott, and he has a license to move up the ladder as he was a Group 1 and 2 stakes winner in his native Brazil before coming to this country.

Duncan F. Kenner Stakes

Cash Refund is undefeated in five career starts at Fair Grounds. He also has the best last-out Beyer Figure in this field (a 105), and he won this race last year. But Cash Refund also has not raced in three months. In fact, he has too many layoff lines in his past performances for comfort. So while Cash Refund can obviously win this race, I’m going to try and beat him at a short price.

Riley Tucker, my pick, also comes into this race off a layoff, but his situation is completely different. Riley Tucker had a very busy 2010 campaign, making 11 starts, so he had a rest coming to him after finishing ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint last November. He turned in a couple of races last year that would make him a handful in this spot, such as his decisive win in the Aristides (in which he beat Cash Refund by almost five lengths), and his second in the Vosburgh.

As for Riley Tucker’s readiness Saturday, there are reasons to think he will be ready to fire big out of the box. Riley Tucker showed the ability to be effective off works alone early in his career when he won his career debut, when he won his 2009 debut off a nine month layoff, and won later in 2009 off a two-month layoff. Moreover, Riley Tucker turned in a big workout for this last Saturday, posting a best-of-86 half-mile breeze.

Let’s take a quick look at the other graded stakes Saturday at Fair Grounds:

◗ New Orleans Handicap – I don’t think Giant Oak will get the same great pace setup he got when he came from way back in the Donn. And I don’t think there will be as much pace pressure here as Mission Impazible faced when he just missed in the Mineshaft Handicap. So I’m going with Mission Impazible.

◗ Fair Grounds Oaks – In a race where none of the prime contenders has run fast yet from a Beyer Figure standpoint, I was interested in recent maiden winner Snow Fall. However, she took ill and will not start. The pick now is Daisy Devine, who has improved dramatically since getting blinkers three starts ago, and who will offer better value than probable favorite Inglorious. Inglorious was a game second in the Rachel Alexandra in her seasonal bow to Kathmanblu, who was the solid favorite in the Kentucky Oaks Future Wager two weeks ago. But Kathmanblu did not run her best race that day, perhaps making Inglorious look a bit better than she really is.

◗ Louisiana Derby – It looks like Mucho Macho Man will get another great trip and will be tough. I will take Elite Alex, who ran well when third in the Southwest considering he was four-wide on the first turn and six to seven-wide on the far turn.

Vinery Spiral Stakes

Positive Response won the local prep for this by a city block, but he’s not going to coast on an easy early lead again Saturday. So at relatively short odds, I’m looking elsewhere. I thought about going with Thirtyfirststreet. He ships from Southern California and 3-year-olds based there are now held in higher esteem, thanks to knockout wins the last two weekends by The Factor and Premier Pegasus. But I prefer Beachcombing.

Beachcombing showed real potential last fall at Belmont Park when he won a strong maiden race that produced three next-out winners. He also ran very well at Gulfstream in his one start this year, narrowly missing to an opponent who came back to win his third straight. Beachcombing’s solid turf form bodes well for a successful transition to synthetic footing. It also helps that his sharp barn has excellent synthetic stats, albeit from limited samples.