05/12/2011 11:48AM

Weekend Warrior for May 14


NEW YORK – There is an understandable lull on the Saturday between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness when it comes to stakes action. But that doesn’t mean the 3-year-old class still won’t find a way to maintain the spotlight. In fact, the richest race in the nation Saturday is the $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park, long the local stepping-stone to the last, oldest, and longest event in the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes.

The Peter Pan, a Grade 2 event, is one of only two graded stakes in the country on Saturday. The other is the Grade 2, $150,000 Jim Murray Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Peter Pan Stakes

Adios Charlie looked good when he won the Jerome last time out for his second straight win from three career starts. But I wonder if his decisive victory wasn’t more of a function of some overrated horses behind him than a major breakthrough – his 98 Beyer Figure was by far the best of his brief career. Adios Charlie looked like he was absolutely beaten in upper stretch, only to come again and win going away when the opponents who appeared to have him mastered suddenly ran out of gas. Add in the facts that Adios Charlie’s performance in the Jerome might have been enhanced by a sloppy track, and that he must go an additional furlong on Saturday, and that encourages me to try and beat him.

Alternation and Prime Cut are two other logical contenders that I’m willing to stand against. Alternation was going fairly well at the finish when fifth in the Arkansas Derby most recently after breaking about two lengths slow from the gate and being a distant trailer early. And Arkansas Derby runner-up Nehro did come back to finish second in the Kentucky Derby. But the fast early pace of the Arkansas Derby set up for a closer like Alternation, and he primarily passed weary opponents.

As for Prime Cut, I liked him last time out in the Lexington, but his second-place finish was decent, and nothing more. And his win two starts back over the highly regarded Bind looks less special now that Bind came back to lose at odds-on again on last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby undercard.

I like Uncle Brent. It is true that Uncle Brent is facing a much better group than the one he beat last time out in the Northern Spur Stakes on the Arkansas Derby undercard for his second win from three career starts. But I liked Uncle Brent’s performance in that race. The early pace of the Northern Spur was fast, and I think he moved way too early through the second quarter-mile, for which his individual time was a quick 23.06 seconds. Yet despite that premature move, Uncle Brent still managed to win decisively, and in the manner of one who could even be more effective with a well-timed ride.

I also respect Newsdad in this spot. Newsdad comes out of the Blue Grass Stakes, in which he steadied on the rail going into the first turn, on the first turn, going into the far turn, and then lacked room behind horses in upper stretch, yet still managed to finish a close fourth. Granted, Newsdad was badly beaten in his only start on dirt in his debut last fall, but he did at least make a middle move in that race, and he is by a horse in Arch, who was a Grade 1 winner on dirt.

Alcatraz Stakes

This headliner at Golden Gate poses the interesting question of what to make of a sharp and slightly faster (from a Beyer standpoint) pair of sprinters in Gig Harbor and Unbridled Endeavor who are stretching out against some slightly slower opponents who are already proven at a middle distance. In this case, I suspect Gig Harbor and Unbridled Endeavor could compromise each other’s chances up on the front end, and I’m going with one of the slower horses proven at a distance, Life Is a Rock.

Life Is a Rock made his turf debut last time out, and he was much better than his win margin of only a nose would suggest. Not only was Life Is a Rock compromised by a very slow pace – the opening half mile was run in 49.15 – he was caught four wide around both the first and far turns. It is to Life Is a Rock’s credit that he got up despite those obstacles, and it suggests he has found his niche on grass. And yes, I am aware that Offlee Wild Boys, another entrant in this race, beat Life Is a Rock in two straight races earlier this year. But those two races were run on Golden Gate’s Tapeta surface, not on turf, where Offlee Wild Boys is 0 for 1.

Decathlon Stakes

This opening-day feature at Monmouth Park could be called the “layoff special,” as four of the seven entrants in this race come off long absences. This Ones for Phil hasn’t been seen in 14 months, Awesome Son has been away 10 months, and Super Robusto and Wildcat Brief have each been idle seven months. The conventional thing to do here might be take one of the three who have been active recently, but I can’t. On the Vineyard looks overmatched, Movin’ Out is likely to get burned in a pace battle with Awesome Son, and Temecula Creek just hasn’t been as sharp lately as he used to be, and it’s a concern that he seems to have lost his positional speed.

I think it’s between This Ones for Phil and Wildcat Brief. This Ones for Phil, who was scratched from Wednesday’s Waldeboro Stakes at Belmont for this, earned the two best Beyers of his career off layoffs, albeit much shorter ones than this. He might sit the perfect inside trip off the pace battle, but he also might get carried along too fast early, which could be trouble off such a long absence.

Wildcat Brief isn’t as accomplished off a layoff. In fact, he won second start back off his last two layoffs. But he is going to sit a good outside stalking trip off a hot pace, he loves Monmouth’s main track, and he will be a better price than This Ones for Phil. I’m going with Wildcat Brief.