Let’s serve stakes for Memorial Day, Part 1

The racing world participates in its own barbecue over Memorial Day weekend and the featured item are stakes.  The weekend kicks off today with six graded stakes races from across the country (NY, 2 in KY, 2 in IL, CA).  I’ll be back Monday to preview some graded stakes from around the country.  Let’s take a look at some of today’s races:

ARISTIDES (Churchill Downs Race 9, Post Time 4:29 EDT)

This really serves as the acid test for #1 ATTA BOY ROY, who was victorious in the Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard.  It looks like he’s going to come under serious fire from the start with #2 CHIEF OF AFFAIRS breaking just to his outside and the horse who stands to get the best trip might be #5 CASH REFUND, who has been successful from just off the pace in the past.  He is 1 for 2 at Churchill and his only blemish in his career came in the Matt Winn last year, which happened to be his only 7 furlong effort in his career.  Trainer Steve Margolis has been very cautious with this son of Petionville and he looks to be sitting on a monstrous effort.  #6 CASSOULET is interesting for a minor placing as he exits a handy win on opening day of the spring meet.  He’s 2 for 3 at Churchill Downs and will certainly be in position to capitalize on the expected scorching pace.  Let’s look for him to fill out a nice exacta.  SELECTIONS: 5-6-2

VAGRANCY (Belmont Race 9, Post Time 5:17 PM EDT)

Given the expected pace in here, all signs point to #2 HOUR GLASS being very tough from off the pace. She checked in a competitive second to #3 TAR HEEL MOM in the Distaff Handicap at the Big A back in April over a sloppy track and it didn’t seem like she handled the off surface all that well. While Tar Heel Mom set a fast pace in the Distaff it was uncontested and she’s very dangerous when left alone. As for Hour Glass, she should be in a good spot off the pace and be ready to pounce as the race comes back to her. #4 MALIBU PRAYER is the “other” Todd Pletcher trainee in this event and she’s returning from a lengthy layoff that followed a win against older horses in the Chilukki. She has been most effective going longer and you have to wonder if this race might be just to tighten the screws a bit before engagements in races like the Ruffian and/or Personal Ensign. Nonetheless, she’ll be very tough if the race unfolds the way it appears on paper. The aforementioned Tar Heel Mom picked up her first graded stakes score in the Distaff Handicap last time out but she did it with an easy lead on a track she loves. There’s no doubt she’s the best of the speed but I’d tread lightly given her expected price and the pressure she’s due to receive from the beginning.  SELECTIONS: 2-4-3

HANSHIN CUP (Arlington Park Race 9, Post Time 6:14 CDT)

Trainer Mike Stidham looks to have a lock on this race with two entrants who both have terrific chances of winning, #6 GRAN ESTRENO and #7 TYBALT.  The latter is a bit more interesting as he cut his teeth in this country as a turf horse for the late Bobby Frankel before relocating to Stidham’s barn last year.  He made his first start on conventional dirt last time out at Fair Grounds and went wire-to-wire in a race that had been taken off the turf.  He’s bred tremendously being out of the accomplished mare Tuzla and this guy ran two nice races on synthetic surfaces across the pond to begin his career.  One thing that is certain about this race is that there’s no shortage of speed.  That could set things up for a couple of horses from off the pace like #4 COUNTRY FLAVOR and #8 WILDEYEDSOUTHERNBOY.  The former is exiting a turf race where he did no running but is changing surfaces and trainer Greg Geier has a record of 3-19 with a $2.41 ROI with horses going from turf to synthetics and each of those three wins came at Arlington Park.  The pace is going to be steady and that will set things up for this son of Empire Maker.  The aforementioned Wildeyedsouthernboy is returning to the Polytrack, over which he’s run quite well for trainer Hugh Robertson.  He’s 6 of 7 on the “fake” stuff and will get an extra quarter-mile to work with in this spot.  SELECTIONS: 4-8-5

DOGWOOD (Churchill Downs Race 10 Post Time 5:29 EDT)

Likely favorite #4 AILALEA is the type I usually try to beat as anyone wagering on her is hoping that a simple class drop equals a form reversal.  Should she run a better race in this Grade III stake given the company she‘s kept thus far in 2010?  Sure, but that’s not a given and a price like 7/5 is hardly appetizing with such a proposition.  #7 VISAVIS contested the pace that ultimately cooked heavily favored Hot Dixie Chick in the Eight Belles on the Derby undercard and now goes another sixteenth of a mile.  They went a solid half of :45 and 1/5 in the Eight Belles but there’s not nearly as much early zip in this affair, so this daughter of Indian Charlie could find herself on the lead from the start.  If Ailalea has gives up too much early ground to this gal then she might not be able to bridge the gap.  SELECTIONS: 7-4-2

ARLINGTON MATRON (Arlington Park Race 10, Post Time 6:43 EDT)

The pace scenario in this event is muddled by the outside posts for #11 TIZAQUEENA and #12 SOUPER MISS, who are the likeliest frontrunners in this bulky field.  They’re both going to be asked for speed out of the gate and that should establish a decent early tempo at the least.  Even though there are a number of accomplished runners in here, #7 SWEET AND FLAWLESS, who is only 1 for 13, looks to have a big chance from off the pace.  She is cutting back from the 12 furlong Bewitch at Keeneland in which she was the only horse to make a meaningful move from off the pace.  Her only start here at Arlington resulted in a very solid 2nd place finish in the Arlington Oaks, so she’ll handle this surface without issue.  Trainer Eric Reed has strong numbers with horses going from turf to synthetics and this gal should be rolling in the last two furlongs.  #6 HAKA won the Doubledogdare in her last start as she stalked a moderate early tempo and took over leaving the quarter pole.  Her stablemate, Funny Moon, came out of that event to win the Shuvee at Belmont Park, so the group she beat at Keeneland was strong.  Like the top pick, she’ll be moving in the right direction late.  SELECTIONS: 7-6-11

GAMELY (Hollywood  Park Race 9, Post Time 7:05 PM EDT)

As much as you might want to bet against #4 TUSCAN EVENING, the accomplished race mare and multiple graded stakes winner, you have to admit that she has a distinct pace advantage in this event.  She has won four graded stakes races in 2010 already but she did so in her last two with the aid of very soft pace setups.  If #8 CAT BY THE TALE can put some pressure on her in the opening half-mile then some of the late runners may have a better chance.  #5 WELL MONIED is the chief among the late runners I’d like to give a big chance as she goes 2nd off a layoff for trainer Howie Zucker.  She has run well at Hollywood Park in the past as she won the Honeymoon last year on this course.  She had tough trips in the American and Del Mar Oaks, so those blemishes ought not be held against her.  If you’re going to play someone from off the pace, this gal will definitely provide you with the most value.  SELECTIONS: 5-4-3

Good luck today and I’ll see you back here Monday to recap the Saturday and Sunday stakes and preview Monday’s terrific day of racing!  Until then I’ll leave you with a replay of the Donn Handicap, won by Met Mile favorite Quality Road:

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