US Saturday Preview: Speaking ready for War
Graeme North looks towards an action-packed Saturday in the US...
"Speaking Of Which is an interesting contender as he hasn’t often had the chance to show what he can do since winning the Gallinule Stakes last year by nine lengths."
East Coast Grade 1 action comes from Belmont this weekend and to be honest the race in question, the Man O'War Stakes (off 17:17 local time, 22:17 BST) is, like the G1s at Belmont this year that have gone before it, something of an underwhelming affair. That said, it is at least competitive, even if there is bizarrely no European raider in view of the race being on turf and the $600,000 purse, with just 4lb covering the top five horses on weight-adjusted Timeform ratings. Joint top of those quintet on 142 are Optimizer, who is ridden by Joel Rosario, and Boisterous, closely followed by Twilight Eclipse on 141.
Optimizer has chased home America's two best turf horses Wise Dan and Point Of Entry in two of his last three starts and there is nothing of their calibre in this race, but he's also fluffed easier opportunities so, for all his ability, is not one to place maximum faith in.
Boisterous has run twice this year, both times at nine furlongs, finishing second at Keeneland on the first occasion then beating last week's United Nations winner Big Blue Kitten in the G2 Monmouth Stakes. He won over this 11-furlong trip last autumn at Aqueduct and won't have any problem with the ground for all he's particularly effective on a softish surface.
Current mile-and-a-half world record holder Twilight Eclipse finished behind Optimizer last time when the yielding ground didn't suit. The firm Belmont turf will be much more to his liking and on his previous Gulfstream Park form he's likely to be right there in the mix.
Veteran Al Khali has lost some of his sparkle this year so the other likely protagonist is Speaking Of Which. He's an interesting contender as he hasn't often had the chance to show what he can do since winning the Gallinule Stakes last year by nine lengths. He made a very encouraging first start in the States when second to Grandeur conceding 4lb in the Twilight Derby at Santa Anita over nine furlongs but then lost all chance next time when stumbling badly approaching the first bend. He showed the benefit of his belated reappearance when winning readily at Monmouth last time, but it's not that he's bang in form that makes him of interest, as on that Monmouth run he still needs to find some improvement, but the step up to this trip for the first time. In receipt of 4lb from Optimizer and Boisterous he looks the value at the forecast 13 on the Morning Line.
On the final weekend before Saratoga and Del Mar begin their summer meets, there is also Graded action at Delaware in the shape of the Delaware Oaks and the Robert G. Dick Memorial Stakes. The Delaware Oaks (16:45, 21:45 BST) has Grade 2 status but few if any of this field have obvious aspirations to a prolonged career in graded events - the only runner to have run at higher than listed level previously is Maracuya who finished well held in fourth in a substandard Black-Eyed Susan last time but might yet have a bit more to offer seeing as that was only her third run.
Morning Line favourite at 3.5 rather surprisingly is Tell A Great Story who beat Ile St Molly a nose in the Go For Wand Stakes here last time over a mile and seventy yards but is 6lb worse off at the weights on this occasion. Ile St Molly really ought to be favourite - 6lb clear on our figures and 12lb ahead of the third top-rated, she's improved appreciably since being stepped up to a mile from six furlongs and has a little further to run here. There looks a fair amount of pace in the race, though, and if that plays into the hands of one ridden patiently it might be Dancing Afleet who has won her two races here while showing her best form yet in an allowance optional claimer last time. Ile St Mary looks overpriced at 4, however.
The G3 Robert G. Dick Memorial (17:15, 22:15 BST) is restricted to fillies and mares and is run over a mile and three furlongs on the turf. This has a competitive look to it with Aigue Marine heading our ratings on 132 followed by Angel Terrace and Laughing with another three either 128 or 129.
Aigue Marine has shown form just as good in the States as she did previously in France and was impressive at Gulfstream in March on her reappearance having looked unlucky no to win a G3 at Aqueduct on her Stateside debut last autumn. She disappointed last time but in view of her absence since almost certainly wasn't right and this slight drop back to eleven furlongs won't be a problem. Laughing is her main opponent on form and will almost be the one to beat given that she seems likely to get her own way in front as she has done on occasions when successful before. She showed she was as good as ever when making a winning reappearance at Monmouth two weeks ago in the G3 Eatontown but this is quite a quick turnaround. The likely pace scenario here might well not suit Angel Terrace, who came from last to first to win the G3 Valley View at Keeneland last October but hasn't another comparable run, so with the ground probably not soft enough for Tannery Aigue Marine looks worth another chance. At the forecast 4, though, there's little margin in her price.
Back Speaking Of Which in the Man O'War
Back Ile St Molly in the Delaware Oaks