Ladies look lovely; Foster faves fail to fire

There were 3 Grade I stakes races run on Saturday, one at Belmont, one at Churchill, and one at Hollywood.  While the winning performances of Awesome Maria and Blind Luck stamped each as major contenders in the older female division, Pool Play’s upset score in the Stephen Foster threw an already chaotic handicap division into a further tailspin.

Let’s start with Awesome Maria.  After being transferred to trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn for her 3YO campaign, many waited patiently for her return to the races.  Off since the Frizette in October 2009, Pletcher entered Awesome Maria on the turf in the Riskaverse at Saratoga on closing week.  She was victorious but her participation in a turf route race was an odd placement by Pletcher.  After a poor effort in the Cotillion, Pletcher gave her another try in graded stakes company in the Gazelle, where she finished second to the Larry Jones-trained No Such Word.  The question marks on her coming into 2011 were numerous.  Pletcher campaigned her with no confidence in 2010 and you had to wonder if the potential she showed as a 2YO was a product of precocity as a juvenile.  Well, that was then and this is now.  With wins in the Sabin, Rampart, Shuvee, and now the Ogden Phipps, she has to be considered the 3rd best older female in the country.  Her win in yesterday’s Ogden Phipps was authoritative and awfully easy.  She earned a 100 Beyer Speed Figure, her 3rd such triple digit figure of 2011.  Pletcher said afterwards that she will be pointed to the Ruffian Invitational Handicap on July 31 at Saratoga, a race run at 9 furlongs.  Awesome Maria is already a winner at the Spa having broken her maiden on Alabama day in 2009.

Have we had a horse over the last 5 years that’s been as easy to cheer for as Blind Luck?  The pint-sized powerhouse traveled all over America last year and won races at Santa Anita, Oaklawn, Churchill Downs, Delaware, and Saratoga.  After consecutive defeats at Santa Anita this winter many had written her off as a 4YO whose best days were in the rearview mirror.  Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was unconvinced and never lost confidence in the defending Eclipse Award winner.  She has now rattled off consecutive wins at Churchill and Hollywood Park and seems to be every bit as good as she was in 2010.  Her win in yesterday’s Vanity Handicap came despite a poor pace setup but jockey Garrett Gomez hardly urged his filly late as she passed every rival in the final 3/16ths.  Let’s hope that Switch is cut back in distance by trainer John Sadler as she has the potential to be the best female sprinter in the country.  9 furlongs has proven to be too far for her and her record around two turns is just 2-8.

Where clarity came from the Ogden Phipps and Vanity, the Stephen Foster was a total head-scratcher.  Pool Play, making his first dirt start, charged down the center of the track to register a last-to-first win at odds of 36-1.  He ran down New Orleans Handicap winner Mission Impazible, who rebounded significantly from a poor effort in the Alysheba.  In fact, the Alysheba was a very odd race in terms of how its participants came back.  The winner, First Dude, did not participate in the Foster.  Regal Ransom and Equestrio, the 2nd and 3rd place finishers in the Alysheba, finished 11th and 9th.  The 4th place finisher from the Alysheba, Giant Oak, finished 5th in the Foster with no viable excuses.  Tough trips hurt Apart and Duke of Mischief, but it’s tough to think either would have won with more racing luck or better rides.  As for Pool Play, you would think his future is on dirt as he looked more like a BC Marathon than a Classic horse prior to yesterday’s Foster.  Until further notice I’m chalking the Foster result up to the randomness that takes place in a bad division.  Let’s hope the next round of handicap races, the Suburban on July 2 at Belmont and the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 9 at Hollywood Park, show that this division still has some decent horses.

There’s a carryover of better than 169k today at Belmont Park on the Father’s Day program.  The first three legs look as if they should be very formful with Far Isle, Hyper and Race to Urga all slated to go off heavy favorites.  The 8th-10th should be very wide open and I’ll include horses like Considerate in the 8th, Slevin in the 9th and Strikealinethruit in the nightcap.  Best of luck if you’re getting involved and Happy Father’s Day to all fathers and grandfathers out there!

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