10/25/2012 12:34PM

Weekend Warrior for Oct. 27: Polytrack lover Middie fits well in Fayette

Four-Footed Fotos
Middie seems to do his best running on Polytrack, including this win in the Washington Park Handicap at Arlington.

With a week to go until the Breeders’ Cup, the national stakes schedule is understandably tame by recent standards. The richest race in the nation, with a purse of $350,000, is the ungraded Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash, which tops a card at Laurel that includes five other stakes.

The highest graded event of the day is the Grade 2, $150,000 Fayette at Keeneland. There are also three Grade 3 races to be decided, the Bold Ruler and Turnback the Alarm handicaps at Belmont, which are worth $150,000 each, and the $100,000 Autumn Miss at Santa Anita.

Fayette Stakes

There is an interesting mix of runners in this race, including a couple coming out of good turf stakes and a comebacking 3-year-old who landed a big prize early in the season who are sure to have their share of backers.

Guys Reward and Newsdad are members of that first group. Guys Reward comes out of a trio of Grade 2 stakes, one of which (the Firecracker Handicap) he won. And Guys Reward does show a win and a third in two career starts on Keeneland’s Polytrack, the surface he switches to Saturday. As for Newsdad, he started in two Grade 1 and four Grade 2 events in his last six starts, and he romped in his only start on Keeneland’s main track. But while I wouldn’t be surprised if either won, I’m looking elsewhere.

Guys Reward did finish third over the track to Wise Dan in the Ben Ali Stakes last spring, but he was beaten more than 13 lengths and really didn’t do a lot of running. And Guys Reward’s win on Polytrack was in an entry-level allowance race two years ago with a mediocre 86 Beyer Figure. Newsdad simply hasn’t run as well as he did when he won the Mac Diarmida and Pan American at Gulfstream early this year. He did flash a glimpse when he made an interesting premature move in the Sword Dancer two starts back, but he was dismal in the Bowling Green most recently and he appears far removed from his best form.

The comebacking 3-year-old is Take Charge Indy, who parlayed an uncontested early lead into an upset victory in the Florida Derby in late March. Take Charge Indy will be making his first start since finishing 19th in the Kentucky Derby, but no matter how well he might be training, it’s not my policy to take horses off near six-month layoffs on Polytrack. Besides, I think this is really Take Charge Indy’s prep for next month’s Clark Handicap.

I like Middie, who is a true synthetic track specialist. Middie ran big winning the Washington Park Handicap two starts back in track-record time, walloping, among others, Pool Play, who came back to win the Hawthorne Gold Cup with a 101 Beyer and is a pre-entrant in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. And Middie ran well again last time out, winning for the second time in three starts on Keeneland’s Polytrack by managing to close into a very slow early pace.

Salto is also dangerous here. Salto was pretty much a nondescript turf horse going nowhere special until he tried a synthetic surface for the first time at Keeneland last time out. On a new surface, Salto exploded with a nine-length romp in good time, and it could well be that he is a Polytrack monster. But I prefer Middie because he has beaten better horses, and because of my suspicion that Salto will be the lower price of the two because he is out of the Todd Pletcher barn.

Autumn Miss Stakes

For me, the one-mile distance is the key to this race, and is, along with a distinct class drop, the main reason why Open Water is my play.

Open Water went nine furlongs in the Garden City and Del Mar Oaks in her last two starts and despite those Grade 1 races being tougher spots than this one, Open Water was competitive in both. She was beaten less than three lengths when fifth in the Garden City, and exactly three lengths when third in the Del Mar Oaks. But what was interesting about those races in regard to Open Water is where she was one mile into those races. She was in front by a length in the Del Mar Oaks, and was virtually even for the lead in the Garden City, only to weaken in the final furlong of both races. Clearly, the cut back to a mile suits Open Water at this stage of her career. It is a distance, by the way, at which she was a rallying second in the San Clemente three starts back.

Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash

After the Cotillion, the Pennsylvania Derby, and Gallant Bob Stakes were run at Park Racing on Sept. 22 over a main track where the rail was quicksand, as it usually is there, I filed two horses away for future use. One was Stephanoatsee, who finished a terrific fourth in the Pennsylvania Derby after racing on or near the dead rail every step of the way. I talked about why I was waiting for Stephanoatsee in this space last week when he ran back in the Barbaro Stakes, and he won, but at a terribly disappointing $4.80. The other horse I’ve been waiting for out of that card at Parx was Il Villano, who reappears in this spot.

Il Villano finished fourth in the Gallant Bob, beaten just less than four lengths, but his effort was tremendous. Il Villano contested fractions of 21.41 and 43.95 seconds, and was still fighting for the lead in midstretch, despite racing right on the dead rail every step of the way. I don’t love Il Villano in this spot like I want to because, even though he has some fine back races, he is meeting older opponents who have better back races. But the best of those older opponents have their own issues – Sean Avery was empty in the Vosburgh last time out despite racing on the live rail, Royal Currier had no business losing his last start, and Pacific Ocean won’t have the walking lead he had when he won the James Marvin two back. With that in mind, and given that he really should be a square price and because I’m wedded to him now, I’m sticking with Il Villano.