05/09/2013 12:23PM

Weekend Warrior for May 11: Picks for Peter Pan, Decathlon, Senorita


It might be the Saturday between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but 3-year-olds still own the biggest race of the weekend, the Grade 2, $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park. The Peter Pan is a local stepping-stone to the Belmont Stakes on June 8. The only other graded event Saturday is also for 3-year-olds, but for fillies on the turf, the Grade 3, $100,000 Senorita Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park.

Peter Pan Stakes

Declan’s Warrior earned this field’s top Beyer Figure of 97 in his upset victory in the Bay Shore Stakes last time out. But Declan’s Warrior’s outside rally from off the pace in the Bay Shore is a tricky read. Up until the time the Bay Shore was run as part of the Wood Memorial Day card at Aqueduct, all the main track races were dominated by inside runners, and to only a slightly lesser extent, speed horses. And this perceived track bias gained traction when Princess of Sylmar, who raced against the way the track was playing when second in the Gazelle Stakes the race before the Bay Shore, came back to win last week’s Kentucky Oaks at 38-1 on a fair track. So if Declan’s Warrior beat a track bias in the Bay Shore while also running as fast as he did, then that would make him doubly tough Saturday.

But I think Aqueduct’s main track changed and evened out toward the tail end of the Wood Memorial card (perhaps with increased watering?), because the last four races starting with the Bay Shore were run nothing like the main track races that preceded them. That doesn’t mean Declan’s Warrior didn’t run well in the Bay Shore. He did. But he also got a favorable setup with a hot and contested early pace. And now Declan’s Warrior stretches out from seven to nine furlongs without having yet proven he is a router rather than a late-running sprinter. So I’m playing against him.

Abraham will also take money here because he is a Todd Pletcher-John Velazquez production, and because he picked up minor awards in the Sunland and Illinois derbies in his last two starts. But while Abraham’s efforts in those stakes look okay on paper, they were far from strong, even in the context of this race.

I like Freedom Child for the upset. Freedom Child finished a distant 10th in the Wood Memorial most recently, but was declared a non-starter when he remained in the hands of an assistant starter after the gate opened. All things considered, Freedom Child turned in a very interesting effort in the Wood. He broke about six or seven lengths slow, and was rank on the first turn while four wide. Despite all of that, Freedom Child made a nice four-wide move to challenge going into the far turn, right when the pace was heating up, and remained relatively prominent to the stretch before understandably fading.

Freedom Child’s two outings at Gulfstream prior to the Wood were good. In his first start this year, he was compromised by a bad outside post and an inside runner’s track, but still finished third. He followed with a decisive maiden victory over Bellarmine, who came back to win his next two starts and, for two seconds, was considered a possible starter for the Preakness. Freedom Child is no stranger to good company. When he finished second in his second of two starts last year, he split Orb and Revolutionary, neither of whom require introduction. And if wet weather renders Saturday’s track something other than fast, note that Freedom Child is by Malibu Moon (Orb’s sire), out of a Deputy Minister mare. That’s a wet-track pedigree if there ever was one.

Decathlon Stakes

This is the feature on the opening-day card at Monmouth and features a match-up between Saginaw, a terrific New York-bred, and Travelin Man, who crushed a solid field in the Sir Shackleton Stakes at Gulfstream most recently on the Florida Derby undercard. Over the last 14 months, Saginaw has won 12 of 15 starts, and not all were over New York-breds. But while he is a win machine, I think he’s best at distances a little longer than the six furlongs he gets Saturday.

As for Travelin Man, he might also prefer a bit more ground, and his closing style might be compromised by the fact that there isn’t a lot of pace in this race.

Given my assessment of the pace scenario, I’m taking a shot with the class-jumping Luckysdream. Luckysdream has won 4 of 5 starts since being claimed, and in his last two – both front-running scores at Parx Racing – he set solid fractions on deepish surfaces. The only potential challenger I see for Luckysdream for the early lead is Diski Dance, who had good early lick earlier in his career, But Diski Dance’s form went bad before he went on extended hiatus last summer, and it’s guesswork as to what to expect of him in his first start back.

Senorita Stakes

Scarlet Strike is unquestionably the one to beat. She was the best when she won the Providencia Stakes most recently on the Santa Anita Derby undercard, and while she is cutting back from nine to eight furlongs here, she was beaten just a nose going a mile in the Blue Norther in her only other turf start. But as solid as Scarlet Strike is, I’m taking the logical alternative, Lilbourne Eliza.

Lilbourne Eliza recently made her United Stakes debut, but she must have expended a lot of energy even before the gate opened. According to the chart, Lilbourne Eliza ran off briefly with her rider in the post parade, and was reluctant to load into the gate. And then she broke flat-footed all around. Despite all of that, Lilbourne Eliza pressed a solid early pace, took the lead in the stretch, and fought back gamely when hooked by the winner to be beaten just a nose. With only slightly better behavior in her second start back off a six-month layoff, Lilbourne Liza seems perfectly capable of improving enough to win this.