01/05/2012 12:14PM

Weekend Warrior: Sweet Seventeen's speed could steal Busanda

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The 2012 stakes schedule starts out in formful fashion as the most important racing on the first Saturday of the year can be found at precisely the places you would expect. Santa Anita has a graded stakes doubleheader consisting of the Grade 2, $150,000 San Pasqual and the Grade 3, $100,000 Sham. Gulfstream Park has the day’s other graded event, the Grade 3, $100,000 Marshua’s River. Aqueduct has two stakes on its card, the $150,000 Count Fleet, and the $100,000 Busanda.

Busanda Stakes

Two in this race – Captivating Lass and Bourbonstreetgirl – are dropping out of the Grade 2 Demoiselle, and they will have their share of backers. Captivating Lass, who was only 5-1 against nine others in the Demoiselle off a first-out route win at Parx Racing, was steadied after entering the far turn as though something went terribly wrong with her. She continued on to finish seventh, but she goes Saturday with Lasix (which might explain what happened in the Demoiselle) and blinkers on, and off a best-of-40 work last Monday. As for Bourbonstreetgirl, she finished third in the Demoiselle after making a nice run around the far turn despite having to go four to five wide. However, the Demoiselle was a slowly run race, and I’m not certain I would want anyone out of that race beyond Disposablepleasure, who was a miles-the-best winner after stumbling badly out of the gate.

I like Sweet Seventeen, who won her debut on dirt at Laurel before winning an allowance race at Keeneland and finishing second to a 4-5 shot in the Glorious Song Stakes in her last two starts, both on Polytrack. One concern about Sweet Seventeen might be over how she breaks from the gate. She did break last of nine and last of six in her first two starts, but the past performance line that has her breaking 11th of 12 in the Glorious Song most recently is misleading. She came out on a line with everyone in that race, and was actually taken back off the early pace several strides into the race. Sweet Seventeen should like stretching out to two turns on the inner track, I like her inside draw, and the rush-up speed she showed in her first two starts suggests she could be a speed presence in a race that doesn’t have a lot of pace.

In the Count Fleet, Alpha drops out of two Grade 1 starts, the first a willing second to the highly regarded Union Rags in the Champagne, and like barnmate Captivating Lass, he also is first time Lasix. But while Alpha will obviously take some beating, I’m interested in Stephanoatsee, who wasn’t a bad seventh last time out in the Remsen, considering his late run was compromised by a very slow pace, and he was forced to go four wide around the far turn, and six wide into the stretch.

San Pasqual Stakes

The group in this race has more than their share of imperfections. Tres Borrachos was a game second as the favorite in the Native Diver most recently going a distance that is a touch beyond his best, and this shorter route will be to his liking. But Tres Borrachos has never finished first or second on a fast dirt track, so I’m inclined to play against him at a short price. Tweebster gets his blinkers back and is third start off a layoff, but I wonder about his ability to close the deal. Massone really doesn’t like to win, Uh Oh Bango seems off form, Skipshot doesn’t appear to be the horse he once was, and Utopian is a complete question mark on dirt. That leaves me with Thirtyfirststreet and Java Man. Thirtyfirststreet has speed and adds blinkers, but has yet to crack even just a 90 Beyer, so I will take a shot with Java Man

Java Man’s recent form might not be as spotty as it may appear at first glance. He was a mediocre fourth three starts back at Del Mar in his Southern California debut and first start for trainer John Sadler, but that effort can be attributed to an eight- month layoff and his unfamiliarity with synthetic surfaces. Java Man followed with a 26-1 surprise over this dirt track, and while it is true he capitalized on a good trip that day, the horse he edged, Hoorayforhollywood, earned Beyers of 97 and 103 in his previous two starts. Last time out, Java Man flopped at Hollywood, perhaps confirming that he just doesn’t like synthetic tracks. Java Man now returns to the scene of his good win two back, shows a bullet work over the track last Monday, and picks up Garret Gomez, who won the first three stakes races run this year at Santa Anita.

As for the Sham, I thought Secret Circle was unfairly pegged as “just a sprinter” after he held on at 2-5 to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint. Yes, Secret Circle was tired at the end of that race, but he had a right to be after disputing a ridiculously fast early pace while racing with blinkers for the first time. The blinkers are off Saturday, and the pace, which Secret Circle doesn’t have to be on to be effective, should be more reasonable. Secret Circle will be tough, although I must admit I am a fan of Hierro, who only scratched the surface of what he can do in his big maiden win last time out.

Marshua’s River Stakes

If Daveron runs back to either her victory in the Ballston Spa Stakes two starts back, or her third most recently in the First Lady Stakes behind Never Retreat, who was winning her fifth graded stakes of 2011 that day, and Together, who came back to win the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, then she will win. But Daveron will be making her first start in three months here, so maybe she will be just enough below peak effectiveness that someone else might score.

I’m going with La Reine Lionne. Admittedly, La Reine Lionne doesn’t have anywhere near the class lines Daveron has, but she improved last year for trainer Chad Brown, and is competitive off the form she showed at Saratoga last summer. La Reine Lionne knocked off the rust of a four-month layoff with a win over the course over softer last month, and seems primed for a step forward.