09/19/2013 1:39PM

Weekend Warrior for Sept. 21: Picks for Gallant Bob, De Francis Dash, Gallant Bloom

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Kenny Martin
Clearly Now switches from turf to dirt and cuts back from a mile to six furlongs for the Gallant Bob at Parx.

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There are big doings in the Mid-Atlantic region Saturday. Parx Racing offers a pair of $1 million events, the Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes and the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby, supported by the Grade 3, $300,000 Gallant Bob Stakes. Charles Town offers a stakes-laden card, topped by a pair of $400,000 races, the Researcher Stakes and the Charles Town Oaks. And Laurel has a stakes-filled card, headed by the $350,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash. Belmont Park, meanwhile, has the day’s only other graded race, the Grade 2, $300,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap.

Gallant Bob Stakes

One thing that is critical anytime you’re thinking about getting down at Parx is paying close attention to how the track is playing. Most of the time on the Parx main track, the wider you are, the better. But earlier this week, the rail at Parx didn’t appear to be the certain death it usually is. So if you’re interested in playing the big races there Saturday, it would be a good idea to watch the earlier races to see if the main track is indeed playing more fairly.

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With that out of the way, after he finished a close third in the Woody Stephens on the Belmont Stakes undercard I blogged that I was destined to get parimutuelly involved with Clearly Now this year, and here’s my chance. Clearly Now’s last three starts, a near-miss in the Bay Shore Stakes prior to the Stephens, and a sharp third in the Charlie Barley Stakes last time out (he was moved up to second on disqualification), all look good on paper, and make him a logical contender in this spot. But Clearly Now’s last three efforts were actually much, much better than they even appear at first glance, making him a tough horse to beat here.

Clearly Now’s head loss to the then red-hot Declan’s Warrior in the Bay Shore was an eye-opener for me. Not only did he nearly survive being right with blistering early fractions of 22.03 and 44.70 seconds, and finish clearly ahead of the rest of the field, he did so while using a running style that isn’t his best. Before the Bay Shore, Clearly Now won the Swale Stakes decisively from off the pace, which is his most effective style when sprinting.

That was also why I was ready to sign a contract with Clearly Now after the Stephens. I thought he was again too close to a fast early pace, and though he wound up beaten less than a length, I thought he would have done better in that race with a more patient early approach, especially considering the two who finished narrowly in front of him came from much farther off the pace.

In his most recent outing, Clearly Now was not involved in the incident that resulted in the disqualification of the winner. But that race was at a mile on turf, and that’s not his best game right now. At this point in his still young career, Clearly Now is best sprinting on dirt, which he returns to Saturday. And his draw toward the outside here should enable him to let the speed develop to his inside, and make for the more patient trip he wants.

I also respect Majestic Hussar. I picked Majestic Hussar in this space last time out in the King’s Bishop, but that race was over for him in an instant when he broke last of 14, although he gamely remained in contention to midstretch before tiring. This is an easier assignment, but don’t get too excited about his silly 20-1 price on the morning line. Majestic Hussar will be a third to half that price, which is still acceptable.

As for the two big stakes at Parx, I have questions about Cotillion favorite Close Hatches. Her Mother Goose win was huge, but she hasn’t raced in three months. She also had easy, front-running trips in her two two-turn wins, and she won’t get that kind of trip this time. I would take a shot with My Happy Face, who was much the best when a narrowly beaten third in the Test Stakes most recently, but she might wind up going in the Charles Town Oaks instead.

The Pennsylvania Derby looks chalky to me. Will Take Charge still has to validate his Grade 1 Travers upset, but his last two outings at Saratoga (both, notably, with blinkers off), are simply better than what anyone else in this race has done.

Frank De Francis Memorial Dash

Sage Valley might win this as the favorite, but if he does, he will beat me. His fifths in the Forego last time out and in the True North three starts back weren’t great, and his wins in the James Marvin two back (great setup) and in the Maryland Sprint four back (rode the outside bias) look better than they actually were.

Ben’s Cat would merit respect if he goes here instead of the Laurel Dash. But he would be meeting much tougher company than he has been facing on turf.

I’m going with Service for Ten. Service for Ten is up against better than what he beat in the Moscarelli Memorial last time out, but I liked the way he won that race while also earning a career-best Beyer Figure. And the way Service for Ten has worked since suggests he has another step forward in him.

Gallant Bloom Handicap

Dance to Bristol has earned everyone’s respect winning seven straight, including the Grade 1 Ballerina last time out. And Dance Card is an immense talent, although she is coming off an injury-related 10-month absence, and wants more distance. But the projected pace here leads me to Cluster of Stars.

If she wants, the undefeated Cluster of Stars can go right to the front from her inside post (and the rail has been a great place to be lately at Belmont), or if she prefers, she could indulge Classic Point early. Either way, Cluster of Stars is the controlling speed, and she showed early this year that she is good enough to win a race like this. Cluster of Stars has been away five months, but the fact that she romped in her debut, and romped in her second career start off an 11-month break, proves she can fire big off workouts alone.