09/15/2011 12:49PM

Weekend Warrior for Sept. 17


Belmont has the Grade 1, but Charles Town has the richest race in the nation Saturday. Belmont’s headliner is a terrific renewal of the $250,000 Garden City Stakes, but the ungraded Charles Town Oaks boasts a purse of $400,000. North America’s three other graded stakes Saturday, all Grade 3 races, are the $250,000 Summer Stakes and the $200,000 Natalma – Woodbine’s two big juvenile turf races that set the stage for Sunday’s $1 million Woodbine Mile card – and the $100,000 Pucker Up at Arlington.

Garden City Stakes - Get PPs and more video analysis »

The fact that Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner More Than Real and as solid a grass filly as Kathmanblu are secondary players shows that, for a 3-year-old filly turf race, this one is unusually strong. Indeed, Winter Memories, Hungry Island, and even Theysken’s Theory cast imposing shadows here.

Winter Memories will be favored to make amends for her fourth-place finish at 2-5 last time out in the Lake Placid Stakes, a race in which she suffered her second straight brutal trip. Winter Memories was kept in a box from the start to upper stretch in the Lake Placid by the aggressive race riding of an opponent, and she was never able to get out of first gear. She finally dove to the inside in upper stretch for racing room, but that is rarely a winning move in the stretch. And Winter Memories understandably couldn’t fire at that point, losing for only the second time in seven starts. Winter Memories also was badly blocked two starts back in the Lake George Stakes, but she still managed to sweep to an overwhelming victory that, at the time, made her look like one of the country’s best turf females of any age.

Hungry Island, on the other hand, had a clean trip in the Lake Placid, which she went on to upset in going-away fashion. But the Lake Placid was Hungry Island’s fourth straight victory, and it realized the enormous potential she displayed two starts back decisively winning an overnight stakes at Belmont after overcoming a slow pace.

Theysken’s Theory has won four races over the last two seasons in England, including a Group 3 event last year and a race most recently at Sandown over 12 opponents, earning a strong Racing Post Rating of 112. If her name sounds familiar, there’s good reason: Theysken’s Theory was perhaps the biggest steam horse at last year’s Breeders’ Cup. She went in the Juvenile Fillies, not the turf option, and I thought I was being clever taking a shot with her. At the time, there were big questions about the quality of the other Juvenile Fillies starters, while Theysken’s Theory established her quality in England and was moving to dirt with a dirt-oriented pedigree (Bernardini, out of a Summer Squall mare). But Theysken’s Theory wound up getting hammered down to a close third choice at less than 5-1. She also wound up a tired sixth after contesting the pace. But that effort was nowhere near as bad as it looks on paper as Theysken’s Theory ran near the dead rail every step of the way.

Despite what her pedigree might suggest, Theysken’s Theory is clearly more at home on turf, and she is very intriguing here. And Winter Memories, who gets a meaningful jockey switch Saturday and who was most impressive winning her two career starts on Belmont’s turf courses, is still a special filly who easily could master this tough group. But I’m siding with Hungry Island.

While it is true that Hungry Island had nowhere near the trouble Winter Memories did in the Lake Placid, she was by no means a fluke or lucky winner. Hungry Island blew past her field in the final furlong like they were statues, scoring by a widening 2 1/2 lengths. And the reason why Hungry Island made the others look bad late is she got her last three furlongs in 35.74 seconds and her final eighth in 11.79, which were excellent come-home times, considering how deep the course was. But Hungry Island does not require off footing. Her prior two wins came on firm going.

Charles Town Oaks - Get PPs and more video analysis »

Three in here – Her Smile, Coax Liberty, and Hot Summer – come out of stakes at Saratoga, but I’m taking a stand against them. Her Smile and Coax Liberty finished fourth and fifth in the Grade 1 Test, but were soundly beaten, and given their overall form picture, I need to see them validate their stakes wins two starts back. I actually liked Hot Summer when she won the Victory Ride Stakes last time out off the cut back from a route to a sprint and with the potential that race had of falling apart late. Indeed, Hot Summer capitalized on a total pace meltdown, but I doubt this race will fall apart late quite as drastically.

I like Groupie Doll because, after failing on turf in her debut four starts back, she has romped in three straight starts on dirt in the manner of a real up and comer. But I also like Groupie Doll because she represents one of my pet handicapping angles. Groupie Doll comes into this off a clear-cut score in the Gardenia at Ellis Park, and while she did enjoy an easy rail trip in that race, she also clobbered 11 older opponents. A 3-year-old moving from a race against older horses back into a race restricted to members of her age group is actually making a class drop that can range from meaningful to massive, even at this time of year.

PTHA President’s Cup

Bim Bam is the play in this $250,000 feature at Parx Racing. The nine-furlong distance Saturday is a much better fit for him than the 12 furlongs he had to go when sixth in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer most recently. Before that, Bim Bam delivered three straight solid performances, any one of which is good enough to win this. He finished third in the Dixie behind the top-class Paddy O’Prado and Baryshnikov, who subsequently hit the board in three straight graded stakes. He was second ahead of multiple Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti in the Grade 1 Manhattan, and then Bim Bam was a narrowly beaten second in the Sussex to Mr. Ryder, who was winning his third straight.

The problem with Bim Bam is he is 0 for his last 14. But that is easier to take if he is close to the 8-1 he is on the morning line, especially when 5-2 morning-line favorite Smart Bid, whose overall form is a bit prettier, is only 1 for his last 11.