09/26/2013 11:54AM

Weekend Warrior for Sept. 28: Picks for Vosburgh, Zenyatta, Flower Bowl

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Benoit & Associates
Private Zone may be the speed of the speed in the Vosburgh at Belmont.

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It seems like it was only yesterday we were playing Saratoga and Del Mar. And now, the first of two big weekends of final Breeders’ Cup prep races is at hand. It’s Super Saturday at Belmont Park, with five Grade 1 races plus a Grade 2 for good measure, worth a total of $3.4 million. Every stakes at Belmont on Saturday is a prestigious one, but the headliner is, of course, the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Santa Anita also has five Grade 1 events Saturday, each worth $250,000, with the co-features being the Awesome Again and Zenyatta Stakes. And let’s not forget about the $175,000 Homecoming Classic at Churchill Downs, which will be the final Breeders’ Cup prep for last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned.

Vosburgh Invitational

This is Belmont’s springboard to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and I have knocks on the seven locals in the race. Let’s talk about them, from the rail out:

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Forty Tales is meeting older opponents for the first time and though this isn’t exactly a killer group of older opponents, they are better than the 3-year-olds he has been facing. Justin Phillip is the one to beat, but he has been inconsistent. He was flat when fourth in the Smile Sprint three starts back, got a great setup when he won the Vanderbilt two back, but was a meek third in the Forego last time out on the sort of sloppy track he has always loved.

Bahamian Squall upset the Smile, but he merely picked up the pieces late when second in the Vanderbilt most recently. Strapping Groom upset the Forego in front-running fashion on a sloppy track that became increasingly speed-favoring as it took on more water during the afternoon, and he has never run like that on a dry track.

The Lumber Guy won this race last year, but had no excuse losing his recent return from a six-month layoff against weaker company after being bet like he was ready. And while Palace and Candyman E are admirable hard hitters, they have never been this good.

This is a great spot for a new face, and I’m going with the California shipper Private Zone. But I would like Private Zone anyway, because he is absolutely the main speed here. No one else in this field has the intense early zip he has.

Private Zone recently made his first start since an unsuccessful trip to Dubai early this year and overcame a bobbling start to win the Pirate’s Bounty Stakes. That outing should help get Private Zone back to the excellent form he showed before going to Dubai. Last December, he finished second to Grade 1 winner Smiling Tiger in the Vernon Underwood and followed with a narrowly beaten second in the Malibu to Jimmy Creed, who came back to win the Potrero Grande in his next start. But the race that really shows how good Private Zone can be was his second in the Palos Verdes. Despite dueling through fractions of 21.50 and 43.61 seconds, Private Zone gave in only late to Sahara Sky, who came back to win the San Carlos and later won the Grade 1 Met Mile with a 110 Beyer Speed Figure.

Zenyatta Stakes

Don’t be thrown by the modest 78 Beyer that Beholder received for winning the Torrey Pines in her recent return from a four-month layoff. That outing was merely a public workout, and it should have her ready for some serious work this fall. At least, that’s what I expect, as I like the 3-year-old Beholder here in her first start against older opponents.

Beholder has the speed to control the pace Saturday if she wants, but she also showed in her excellent second to Princess of Sylmar in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks that she can be formidable if conceding the early lead is the way to go. Either way, Beholder spells trouble for Joyful Victory. Joyful Victory’s three stakes victories this year, big wins all, came when she was the controlling speed. But when faced with the kind of quality pace pressure Beholder will bring, Joyful Victory folded in the Ogden Phipps Handicap.

Authenticity is in career form and should make her presence felt. I just question whether she can chase and catch at this level of competition.

I don’t have big opinions in the other Santa Anita stakes, but here’s where I’m leaning. I liked Belle of the Fleet’s maiden win last time and I’m picking her in the Chandelier, and I expect Marketing Mix to rebound in the Rodeo Drive from a subpar effort in the Beverly D. Can the Man was the only pace horse around at the finish in the Del Mar Futurity and he could get an easier trip in the FrontRunner, but Schoolofhardrocks is intriguing. Finally, because he missed his break, I’m drawing a line through Paynter’s Woodward dud and would like to see him go straight to the front in the Awesome Again.

Flower Bowl Invitational

Laughing, who is going for her fourth straight graded stakes win Saturday, is much improved this year, and she is the main speed. But Laughing also capitalized on a course bias when she won the Ballston Spa most recently – she raced inside, which had been protected by temporary rails and was by far the fastest part of the course – and it is against my nature to take horses off bias-aided wins. Laughing’s entrymate, Tannery, comes off a wide-trip fourth against males in the Sword Dancer, but I would like to see her put two top efforts together.

I’m taking a flyer with Somali Lemonade. Somali Lemonade raced three wide against the bias in the Ballston Spa, but she ran well when she won the Penny Memorial at Parx Racing two starts back. That early July win was interesting because at 2 and 3, Somali Lemonade generally did her some of best work in early fall.

In the other Belmont stakes, Royal Delta should make the best of her huge pace advantage over Princess of Sylmar in the Beldame, and Graydar should win the Kelso for similar reasons in his comeback, also at a short price. I prefer Real Solution in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, but Slumber strikes me as potentially being a top-class performer. Flat Out was best when pace compromised in the Woodward. He now returns to his favorite track and to a race in the Jockey Club Gold Cup he has owned the last two years. I’m not going to argue with him.

Janice Palmer More than 1 year ago
Joyful Victory likes this track and is on the outside this time. In career form, I wouldn't count her out. Think, unless it's a real speed duel up front, she'll have something left at the end of this 1 1/16th race.
Bruce Eckhoff More than 1 year ago
Early speed very dominant at Belmont in 6f races so far at this meet but so are inside post positions. Private Zone will need to clear to get an inside trip and whether he can do that or not is the question. I suspect he can but wouldn't take less than 3-1.
Albert More than 1 year ago
Mike, a question for you. Regarding Strapping Groom you said "he has never run like that on a dry track" in reference to his win in the sloppy Forego. I had to wait to get the pps, but if you look at the horse's splits for his last 2 races, the dry track win was actually faster than the Forego in the slop. In fact, if you go back to his May 11, 2012 race at Belmont that was also faster than the Forego. That race gives you a pretty clear idea as to why Jacobson claimed the horse in the first place.
Denise Ulmer More than 1 year ago
lone speed soft front fractions results in win nearly every time seen it over and over again but what the heck I am still a kid at 65 years old I have not seen it all but start with the front look if he will be pressured if so look for the closers simple as that
Ronald Dodgen More than 1 year ago
Went back and watched the Palos Verde excellent race for Private Zone. Thanks Mike
Bill Moore More than 1 year ago
Am I alone in thinking Candyman E has a stalking shot to run 2-4?
Vincent More than 1 year ago
I wish you would stop providing the comments section to provide an opportunity for people who have no interest in horse racing to tout their online businesses to unsuspecting horseplayers who are promised almost instant riches by going online and making a mall fortune. These scams only take people's money and return nothing.
tim blake More than 1 year ago
i don't think people fall for those scams at all. but i agree with you.
Albert More than 1 year ago
Agree with you about Private Zone, but it won't be easy because Strapping Groom is likely to go with him. The way Bahamian is training makes him a threat to pick up the pieces and some of the others can also do it if he doesn't. The Lumber Guy was never as fast as the fastest in this group.
Greg Scellin More than 1 year ago
Do you think frontrunners win all races??? Seriously??? You're nuts!!!!
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
Don't know why you getting negative checks, he did take all frontrunners. +1
Greg Scellin More than 1 year ago
Do you think front runners win all races???? You're nuts. Absolutely insane.