09/29/2011 11:47AM

Weekend Warrior for Oct. 1


With nine Grade 1 races and four Grade 2 races on the schedule, Saturday is indeed super.

Five of the nine Grade 1 races will be run at Belmont Par – the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup, the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, the $500,000 Flower Bowl, the $350,000 Beldame, and the $350,000 Vosburgh, with the Grade 2, $200,000 Kelso thrown in for good measure. The other four Grade 1 events, all $250,000 races, will be decided at Santa Anita – the Goodwood, the Norfolk, the Lady’s Secret, and the Yellow Ribbon.

Other stakes of interest Saturday include a strong renewal of the Grade 2, $750,000 Cotillion at Parx Racing, and the Grade 2, $500,000 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park. Heck, Saturday’s stakes schedule is so thick with quality that Grace Hall, winner of the Grade 1 Spinaway most recently, goes in the $75,000 Blue Hen Stakes at Delaware Park.

Flower Bowl Invitational

Stacelita, who won four Group 1 races in her native France before relocating to this country over the summer, is currently our top-ranked turf female off a close third against males in the Grade 1 United Nations two starts back, and her win most recently in the Grade 1 Beverly D. But while Stacelita will take a lot of beating Saturday, it is in my nature to try to knock off a horse coming off as perfect-a-trip win as Stacelita is. She sat an absolute dream rail trip close to a slow pace in the Beverly D., and never had so much as a straw in her path.

I like Deluxe, the regally bred filly who is a half to five Grade 1 or Group 1 winners – Banks Hill, Intercontinental, Champs Elysees, Cacique, and Heat Haze. Deluxe was Group 1-class early in her career in France, and she showed a powerful late kick in her return from a long layoff in her recent U.S. debut, zipping her last quarter mile in 22.81 seconds to narrowly miss in Saratoga’s Paris Opera Stakes. For Deluxe, the Paris Opera was nothing but a mere prep for this spot, and she now stretches out to a 10-furlong distance that will be more to her liking. It is also worth noting that Aruna, who has done almost nothing wrong since coming to the U.S. and is an obvious Flower Bowl contender, was a rank 25-1 outsider when Deluxe finished well ahead of her at Longchamp last year.

Let’s take a quick look at Belmont’s five other Saturday stakes:

Joe Hirsch Turf Classic: I don’t know how many more trans-Atlantic trips Arlington Million and Man o’ War winner Cape Blanco can stand and still maintain his form, but he looks too tough here.

Vosburgh: I’m probably just jumping at shadows, but I thought it was odd that champion male sprinter Big Drama took most of this season off, and I was surprised it was as close as it was when he won his comeback at Calder at 1-10. Big Drama figures to improve, but he will have to. I will go with Euroears, the speed of the speed.

Kelso: Uncle Mo faces older opponents for the first time, but I expect him to score. He was terrific in defeat in the King’s Bishop off a long layoff, and he will be right with a reasonable pace. Besides, he was born to be a miler.

Beldame: Two-horse race between an outstanding older filly in Havre de Grace and a surging 3-year-old in Royal Delta. I think Havre de Grace wins this time.

Jockey Club Gold Cup: Stay Thirsty had a tremendous Saratoga meet winning the Jim Dandy and Travers, but he might like that track better than any other. I will take Flat Out, who also had a good Saratoga finishing second in the Whitney and Woodward, and who now returns to the scene of his big Suburban win.

Lady’s Secret

I have Blind Luck narrowly over Havre de Grace as the top older female right now, but I think she’s vulnerable Saturday. Blind Luck is making her first start in 2 1/2 months, and this really is only a Breeders’ Cup prep. Ask the Moon, who won two Grade 1 races at Saratoga, is also shaky. Her trainer, Marty Wolfson, seems like he is successful shipping everywhere except Southern California. According to DRF ’s Formulator, Wolfson is 0 for 7 in Southern California over the last five years, although he came closest to winning with his last starter, Amazing, in last January’s Sunshine Millions Distaff.

Zazu is my play. Zazu, an accomplished 3-year-old, met older opponents last time in Del Mar’s Clement L. Hirsch. She was a narrowly beaten second after lacking room behind horses late on the far turn and then having to rally up the rail, but she was out very well past the wire. Zazu projects to sit a good trip here, stalking the pace, and getting first jump on Blind Luck.

A quick look at Santa Anita’s three other stakes Saturday:

Norfolk: The stretch run of the Del Mar Futurity was a bump fest. Bit Drill, who got up late to win, was also the best horse, and is a likely repeater.

Goodwood: Coil’s awful Travers performance was too bad to be believed, and it is a good sign that he’s back for this race. Still, it’s hard to have confidence in a horse coming off that sort of effort, and he will be meeting older horses for the first time. I will take Game On Dude, the Big Cap winner, who switches from synthetic to a dirt track he clearly likes.

Yellow Ribbon: Dubawi Heights was second in the Beverly D. most recently, but she will have to go an even longer distance this time, and I’m not sure she wants to go this far. Harmonious has yet to run back to her best performance last year at 3, but she’s finally getting a distance she wants, so I will go with her.

Indiana Derby

No one can take away Shackleford’s Preakness win. But with three stakes losses before the Preakness, and three stakes losses since, Shackleford has to show me his Preakness wasn’t the aberration. As for Caleb’s Posse, he ran well winning the King’s Bishop (nailing Uncle Mo) and Amsterdam in his last two. But they were both sprints that fell apart late, and the pace set-up in this route will be different.

I’m going with Wilburn. Wilburn won his last two starts, including the Smarty Jones Stakes most recently, a race that, while not on the level of the races Shackleford and Caleb’s Posse exit, was still a solid event. Wilburn was cut out to be a good one and appears finally ready to fulfill the promise offered in his impressive debut win early this year at Santa Anita.