11/15/2012 1:17PM

Weekend Warrior for Nov. 17: Firm conditions should benefit Lea in Commonwealth Turf


Delta Downs commands the spotlight Saturday, with the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot and the Grade 3, $500,000 Delta Downs Princess heading a stakes-packed card. Churchill Downs also has a pair of graded stakes, the Grade 2, $175,000 Mrs. Revere and the Grade 3, $100,000 Commonwealth Turf. The one other graded stakes Saturday is Aqueduct’s Grade 3, $150,000 Discovery Handicap.

Commonwealth Turf

In terms of recent company kept, no one in this field can match Finnegans Wake. He was up against the top-class Point of Entry in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic last time out, he finished second in the Grade 1 Secretariat two starts back, and finished third in the Virginia Derby three starts back to Silver Max, a prolific stakes winner early in the season. Obviously, Finnegans Wake is taking a significant class drop in this spot, but while he must be respected, he doesn’t necessarily have to win. Finnegans Wake’s last three starts were in races at distances of 1 1/2 miles, 1 1/4 miles, and 1 1/4 miles. This race is 1 1/16 miles, which might be a bit shorter than what he prefers at this stage of his career. Moreover, as of Thursday morning, Finnegans Wake does not have a published workout since his last outing on Sept. 29. No matter the class of the race in question, the lack of formal activity for that long a period is cause for pause, although I suppose it is possible that there will be a late announcement of an unpublished workout or two. I would hope so.

I like Lea, even if he again faces the two who finished in front of him last time out in the Hawthorne Derby, Two Months Rent and Film Shot. I thought Lea’s third at Hawthorne was very good under adverse circumstances he doesn’t have to encounter again on Saturday. For one, the soft going that prevailed in the Hawthorne Derby was the first time in his brief career that Lea competed on turf other than firm. It has been dry all week in Kentucky, and Lea will this time get the firm footing with which is he is more familiar. Perhaps more importantly, Lea doesn’t have to be anywhere near as far back early in this race as he was at Hawthorne. In his two impressive victories during the Saratoga meet, Lea either set or prompted the early pace. But last time out, after bobbling at the start and then being taken well in hand, Lea found himself next-to-last of 12 in the early running. Getting caught four wide on the first turn didn’t help, either. But Lea finished with good energy, and having made but four starts, his best performances are still in front of him.

As for the Mrs. Revere, Somali Lemonade is back, and readers of this column know I’ve been chasing her lately. She was compromised by a slow pace when fifth in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup most recently, but she did make a move with a fast fourth quarter-mile in that race. This is an easier spot, and Somali Lemonade can win. I’m also interested in Peace Preserver, who has really raised her game in her last two starts. Peace Preserver was a good second to the subsequent QE II winner Dayatthespa in the Riskaverse Stakes two starts back, and she was a powerful winner of the Pebbles Stakes last time out, even if it was with a great setup.

Safely Kept Stakes

This is the headliner at Laurel, and with a purse of $125,000, it is a lucrative late-season sprint spot for straight 3-year-old fillies. And for me, pace and the seven-furlong distance are the keys here.

There is the potential for a contested pace between Doe and Munnings Sister. Doe looks like she’s out of form. Munnings Sister will appreciate the cut back to a sprint from a route, but there is the question of how she will react after being beaten 31 1/2 lengths last time out. I want someone who can stalk and pounce, but one who can also finish out the seven furlongs. Holiday Soiree fits the bill on all counts.

Holiday Soiree not only has foundation after going long last time out in the Indiana Oaks, she is also dropping in class as the first three finishers in that race – Grace Hall, Wine Princess, and Eden’s Moon – are all winners of important stakes. If you can forgive Holiday Soiree’s fourth in the Indiana Oaks and her fourth three starts back in the one-mile Gardenia when she was meeting older stakes opponents in August, then you will find she has strong sprint form. Holiday Soiree won two straight from off the pace before the Gardenia, one at this seven-furlong distance, and prior to the Indiana Oaks, she was a game second in the seven-furlong Charles Town Oaks. Holiday Soiree was beaten less than two lengths in that one by the very talented Book Review, who came back to win a restricted stakes at Belmont in her next start with a 96 Beyer Speed Figure.

Delta Downs Jackpot

Trainer Doug O’Neill has a strong hand here with Goldencents and Know More. Goldencents comes off a second in the Champagne Stakes to Shanghai Bobby, who came back to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and will be the champion 2-year-old male, although it should be noted Goldencents raced on a live rail that day. Know More, who I fear more, moves back to dirt, on which he was second in the FrontRunner Stakes two starts back. Know More disputed the pace that day, but in view of Goldencents’s speed, I expect Know More to revert to more effective rating tactics.

Bern Identity was tons the best winning the Jean Lafitte Stakes last time out, the local prep for this, and I like him to win right back. Early in his career, Bern Identity looked like he might be a one-way speedball, but his connections have done a terrific job teaching him how to rate off the pace. That’s how he won the Jean Lafitte, that’s how he won the Sanford Stakes three starts back, and he will get a lively early pace to set up his late run here.