09/24/2008 11:00PM

Well Armed offers value as favorite


NEW YORK - Huge. There is just no other way to describe Saturday's stakes action and the implications many races will have on next month's Breeders' Cup. There are six Grade 1 races on the Oak Tree card at Santa Anita, and five Grade 1 races at Belmont Park, where, unfortunately, heavy rain is likely to have a significant impact on the proceedings. Saturday is also Kentucky Cup Day at Turfway Park, and Hawthorne Gold Cup Day. Huge, indeed.

Goodwood Stakes

This is the last of the Grade 1's to be run Saturday at Oak Tree, and it is a potential reminder that not all overlays present themselves as double-digit odds propositions. Well Armed's price won't be close to double digits in this race. In fact, there is a very good chance he will go off the favorite. But the presence in this race of Tiago, among others, ensures that Well Armed's odds will be playable even if he is the favorite. And that's good, because I think Well Armed is a very likely winner.

Well Armed's last three performances in this country were rock solid. In February, he prevailed in the San Antonio Handicap, holding off Heatseeker, who came back to win the Santa Anita Handicap, and was unquestionably the best older horse in the nation this side of Curlin at the time of his forced retirement. Then, in his first start back in the U.S. after finishing a respectable third to Curlin in the Dubai World Cup, Well Armed went wire to wire in the San Diego Handicap. But perhaps Well Armed's most impressive effort, despite losing narrowly, was his most recent. That was in the Pacific Classic, in which, for the first time in this country, he rated effectively just off the pace, only grudgingly gave in late to the powerful stretch runner Go Between going a 1o1/4-mile distance that is probably outside of his comfort zone, and yet still actually galloped out narrowly ahead of Go Between after the finish.

As for Tiago, he can certainly win despite not having raced in three months, because he won this race last year off a similar layoff. But even though he won this race and the Swaps last year on synthetic surfaces, I still believe he is most effective on dirt. Tiago's lone win this year came on dirt in the Oaklawn Handicap (over Heatseeker) in a performance that was of decidedly higher quality than his five synthetic track losses this year.

Kentucky Cup Sprint

Gentleman James's surrender in the final furlong of the Grade 1 King's Bishop stakes last time out does not bother me. He was involved in a bitter battle for the early lead that set the King's Bishop up to be won by the deep closer Visionaire, and was stretching out to seven furlongs after just recently finding himself in six-furlong races. Well, Gentleman James is down in class and back at six furlongs Saturday, and is the play.

Before the King's Bishop, Gentleman James turned in two sharp seconds in stakes at Calder, earning triple-digit Beyer Figures both times, and showing when he rated in one of them that he is not a need-the-lead type. That kind of versatility can help him Saturday, although he's fast enough to get the early lead if he chooses to. It's also worth noting that Gentleman James returns to the Turfway Polytrack on which he won his career debut.

Flower Bowl Invitational

By Saturday afternoon, as much as four inches of rain might have fallen on Belmont, meaning the going will be very deep for this turf race. And I think Dynaforce is best equipped to handle such conditions.

Dynaforce handled very deep going earlier in her career in France, and she handled a non-firm turf course well when second in the Grade 1 Diana Handicap two starts back ahead of the next-out stakes winners Wait a While and Vacare. And while Mauralakana will take some beating in here, Dynaforce showed she is very close to her when just a neck behind her in the New York Stakes three starts back.