10/20/2011 11:00AM

Weekend Warrior for Oct. 22


And now we wait.

The Breeders’ Cup is two weeks away, and the graded stakes schedule until then is, not surprisingly, light. There is only one graded stakes in the nation Saturday, and that is the Grade 2, $250,000 Raven Run at Keeneland. Elsewhere, the $200,000 Empire Classic tops the New York Showcase Day card at Belmont Park, while Laurel Park revives the $150,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash.

Raven Run Stakes

Great Hot’s most recent past performance line jumps off the page in this race. Last time out, Great Hot was beaten only two lengths when third in the Grade 1 Lady’s Secret Stakes, finishing behind only the high-class pair of Zazu and Ultra Blend. Zazu, who unfortunately will miss the Breeders’ Cup due to injury, is one of the leading members of this year’s excellent 3-year-old filly crop, and Ultra Blend has improved so much that I currently have her the third best older female in the nation in the current Watchmaker Watch. And while it is true that the Lady’s Secret was run on dirt, a surface over which Great Hot was previously 2 for 2, it isn’t like that footing greatly enhanced her performance. Great Hot, who goes on Polytrack on Saturday, ran just as well from a Beyer Speed Figure standpoint two starts back when she won the Torrey Pines Stakes on Del Mar’s Polytrack.

But while Great Hot deserves respect in this spot, it’s not like it’s pointless to look for other betting options. Great Hot did run well in the Lady’s Secret. On the other hand, when Blind Luck mysteriously came up with the worst performance of her career and Ask The Moon predictably couldn’t carry her sharp Saratoga form west, it became a lot easier for Great Hot to finish third in that race. Besides, Great Hot won’t be the 12-1 she was in the Lady’s Secret on Saturday.

I liked Groupie Doll last time out in the Charles Town Oaks, and even though she was the beaten favorite that night, she certainly ran well enough in finishing second for me to go back to her once again. Maybe it was the lights, or maybe it was the tight bullring turns, but Groupie Doll – who previously showed good positional speed – was much farther back early at Charles Town than she had to be. She finally got rolling on the far turn and was moving so well that she blew the final bend, going about eight wide into the stretch. Yet, she still finished powerfully to be rapidly getting to the winner. Groupie Doll beat a gateful of older opponents, albeit with a good trip, when she won the Gardenia Stakes two starts back, and her recent works at Keeneland are good enough to suggest that she can successfully handle the transition to a synthetic surface.

De Francis Memorial Dash

This race might no longer have graded status, but it’s a fascinating betting race. Candyman E, the morning-line favorite, has been lights out since moving into Tony Dutrow’s barn earlier this year, winning all three of his starts since with strong Beyers. But as sharp as Candyman E is right now, I wouldn’t want him at anywhere near the 2-1 he is on the line, because he is facing much tougher company here.

Despite the Odds and Ravalo are both making suitable surface and distance switches, respectively. Despite the Odds is going turf to dirt, and the last time he did that, he was narrowly beaten in a tough overnight race at Gulfstream in one of the best performances of his career. Ravalo is cutting back to the distance at which he won the Remington Park Sprint Cup two starts back. But I don’t think either is quite good enough in this spot. And speaking of good enough, there was a time when Congressional Page, who is coupled with Despite the Odds, was certainly good enough to win this, but his three performances this year off a year’s absence make you wonder if he’s the horse he used to be.

I have this down to Immortal Eyes and Sunrise Smarty, who was a terrific second in an overnight stakes at Belmont most recently, and I’m going with Immortal Eyes. Immortal Eyes has a reputation of being a 4 1/2-furlong specialist, and that’s because he is so good in those dashes, but he is more than that. His last two starts at Saturday’s six-furlong distance were very good. Two starts back, Immortal Eyes won the Chesapeake Stakes at Colonial Downs, showing blazing speed to control the pace and running on strongly through the stretch to beat a solid field in the track-record time of 1:07.97. Last May at Pimlico on the Preakness Stakes undercard, Immortal Eyes was a narrowly beaten second in the Maryland Sprint Handicap, and a case can be made that he should have been put up on disqualification as he was bumped by the winner in deep stretch. In any event, that race showed that as fast as Immortal Eyes is early, he does not require the lead to be effective.

Bunty Lawless Stakes

This turf feature at Woodbine attracted “only” 13, and there are a lot of ways for a bettor to go. Pender Harbour has obvious appeal as he’s taking a big class drop out of the Pennsylvania Derby and won the last two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, including the Breeders Stakes in his only start on grass. But Pender Harbour is cutting back sharply in distance to a mile. Welloiledmachine has found a home on turf and is looking to make it three straight since switching to the surface, but his Beyers are a little light. Same with Officeinthevalley, who was a stakes winner at the distance over the course last year. Paso Doble’s Beyers are better, but this distance might be a bit too far for him.

Hippolytus is my play. Hippolytus showed he can handle grass and was in the ballpark with Pender Harbour when he was fourth in the Breeders after middle move at a 12-furlong distance beyond his scope. Hippolytus does finish second a lot – he was runner-up in the Queen’s Plate and in the Ontario Derby last time out – but this slightly shorter trip can enhance his late kick and give him less time to wait on the opposition.