10/11/2012 12:05PM

Weekend Warrior for Oct. 13: Going back to an old choice, Somali Lemonade

Barbara D. Livingston
Somali Lemonade is back on the same Keeneland turf course over which she was so impressive winning the Jessamine Stakes exactly one year ago.

NEW YORK – The major Breeders’ Cup preps are over, and the countdown to the Cup is on in earnest. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t interesting stakes racing to be found in the interim, because there is. The big race of the day Saturday is the Grade 1, $400,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup on the turf at Keeneland. Turf is also the scheduled surface for the Grade 3, $150,000 stakes doubleheader at Belmont Park, consisting of the Athenia and Knickerbocker, and for the Grade 3, $200,000 Hawthorne Derby. And Saturday is also California Cup Day at Santa Anita, and Festival of the Sun Day at Calder Race Course, featuring the finales of the Florida Stallion Stakes series.

As for the Warrior, my picks this week are horses I have picked in this space before. If you want to call them personal stable pets, I would have to plead guilty. But as horseplayers, we all latch onto a few horses we like, and we tend to stick with them. The trick is not sticking with them too long. Obviously, I don’t think that’s the case with these three picks. Not yet, anyway.

Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup

If Stephanie’s Kitten runs the way she did when she won the Lake Placid in her most recent appearance, she will win this race. Period. Stephanie’s Kitten was completely trapped on the rail in the stretch of the Lake Placid, and wasn’t able to angle out for racing room until deep stretch. But when she did get in the clear, Stephanie’s Kitten overwhelmed the front-runners with an eye-catching burst of speed to be one of the most impressive half-length winners you will ever see. In fact, I think the Lake Placid was Stephanie’s Kitten’s best performance so far, which is saying something, because last year, she won the Grade 1 Alcibiades and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.

But the thing about the Lake Placid is, it was two months ago. And so far in her career, Stephanie’s Kitten has been a filly who does better second, not first, start back. That was the case when she began her career last summer, it was the case when she began her 3-year-old campaign in the spring, and it was the case again at Saratoga. Stephanie’s Kitten was fourth, albeit with a less-than-perfect trip, in the Lake George two starts back off a freshening, but she ran much better in the Lake Placid. Now, this angle might not apply in this particular situation because Stephanie’s Kitten is owned (and was bred) by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, and we all know how much they love to win at Keeneland, so I’m sure they have tried to address this matter. Still, there is just enough here to give me cause for pause.

Samitar is the co-headliner here off her victory in the Group 1 Irish 1000 Guineas last May and her win in the Grade 1 Garden City last time out in her second U.S. start. I was against Samitar at 4-5 in the Garden City because I thought the nine-furlong distance was a bit too far for her. And though she gamely prevailed, I still think nine furlongs, which she must go again on Saturday, is stretching it for her.

I picked Somali Lemonade in the Garden City, and I’m going back to her here. Somali Lemonade did everything right in the Garden City but win, falling just a head shy of Samitar primarily because that rival got first run on her in a paceless race. But Somali Lemonade’s effort confirmed what I saw when she was a sneaky-good third behind Stephanie’s Kitten in the Lake Placid, which is that she has rounded back to the excellent form she displayed last fall, and that she just might be a fall filly. And now, Somali Lemonade is back on the same Keeneland turf course over which she was so impressive winning the Jessamine Stakes exactly one year ago.

Knickerbocker Stakes

Boisterous will be tough to beat. He was compromised by a lack of pace when he ran ninth in the Arlington Million last time out, but his near-miss in the Arlington Handicap two starts back, his third in the Manhattan three starts back, and his win in the Fort Marcy four starts back were all solid efforts that few others in this race can match.

I took Sky Blazer against Boisterous in the Arlington Handicap off what I thought was a breakthrough score for him in May on the same Belmont inner turf course he competes on Saturday. Unfortunately, he didn’t do any running in Chicago, and finished sixth. But Sky Blazer ran so well in the Bernard Baruch Handicap most recently that I have forgiven him, and I’m willing to give him another go against Boisterous here.

Sky Blazer was up against it in the Baruch before the gate even opened, because there was no pace in the race to assist his late run. And when the gate did open, Sky Blazer compounded his problems by spotting the field a head start of about five lengths. Yet despite all of that, Sky Blazer ran his last five-sixteenths of a mile in a blazing 27.36 seconds to finish third. The good news is that Sky Blazer’s gate issues seem restricted to Saratoga (he was tons the best in last year’s Saranac after an awful start), and there is more pace Saturday for him to shoot at.

Lava Man California Cup Classic

Given that I picked Holladay Road in the Santa Anita Handicap early this year – he finished fourth of 13, but I did not key him in fourth in supers – I can certainly go back to him in this spot. But I like him for more reasons than just that.

Holladay Road made a good run when he was third in the Brubaker most recently despite a slow pace that was not favorable to his closing style. This time, thanks primarily to the stretch-out sprinter Got Even, Holladay Road will find more zip up front to help his late kick. And while he seems primed for his best race in his third start off a layoff, Saturday’s surface is an important consideration, too. Holladay Road might be the Wise Dan of California-breds in that he runs well on anything, but I think the dirt surface he moves back to here is his favorite.