Litfin: Weather the Biggest Key in Weekend Stakes
Photo:
Dave Litfin - Litfin At Large

Weather-wise, this has not been the greatest spring I can ever remember, and things aren't supposed to get much better May 13 at Belmont Park, where there is a 100% chance of rain—upward of an inch or more—for an 11-race program containing four graded stakes.

Two of the stakes are scheduled for turf, and while the Man o' War (G1T) will likely remain on the Widener turf come hell or high water, it's uncertain whether conditions will permit the Beaugay (G3T) to remain on the inner course.

This isn't a situation where it's possible to form definitive plans the day before, so it's best to consider the following discussion an exercise in remaining flexible.

Peter Pan (G3), race 4, 3:04 ET: The expected rain probably matters not when it comes to evaluating the top three morning-line choices, as Master Plan (#1), Timeline (#2) and Meantime (#3) have all run well on sealed wet tracks.

Indeed, off-going makes it easier to get a line on Master Plan, who has never run on fast dirt, but was clear for second by better than a dozen lengths behind stablemate Tapwrit in the slop at Gulfstream Park, and a rallying third in the UAE Derby Sponsored by the Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (G2) when last seen. The versatile son of Twirling Candy   was a maiden winner on the grass at Gulfstream Park West last fall, and won the OBS Championship over the synthetic surface at the Ocala Training Center two starts later. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt has never failed to gain ground in the stretch, and galloped out strongly past the finish in Meydan. Another good showing here could propel him into the Belmont Stakes (G1) June 10 for WinStar Farm, who campaigned last year's winner, Creator, and 2014 runner-up Commissioner  .

Pletcher, still basking in the glow of Always Dreaming's win in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), got off to a remarkable 10-for-18 start at Belmont.

Timeline, unbeaten after two starts, and Take Your Guns (#6), who won a maiden route going away at Keeneland four weeks ago, have shown considerable potential for Chad Brown, who has won with 13 of his first 31 starters and sits atop the spring-meet standings.

Timeline was unveiled at seven furlongs in a 13-horse field at Gulfstream Park in early March, and after idling through the turn and into upper stretch, surged late to get up on the outside. On the strength of that effort the Hard Spun   colt was dispatched at even money in the slop at Aqueduct Racetrack a month later, and simply drowned his opponents to get through preliminary allowance conditions by more than 13 lengths at a flat mile. Two bullet workouts followed, and he appears primed to stretch out another furlong. The sky's the limit.

Take Your Guns and Meantime now meet winners, and cut back to one turn, after maiden wins at Keeneland. The latter, a supplemental nominee, shakes out as the Peter Pan's probable pacesetter based on his front-running score in the mud three weeks ago.

Impressive Edge (#4) has posted four workouts since tiring late and finishing fourth in the Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1). Keep tabs on him for what would seemingly be a beneficial cutback in distance, perhaps in something like the seven-furlong Woody Stephens (G2) on June 10.

A - 2
B - 1
C - 3, 4, 6

Beaugay Stakes, race 6, 4:09 ET: You have to think Miss Temple City (#8) would have been right there in last week's Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Presented by Longines (G2T), because she beat the winner, Roca Rojo by a nose in the Matriarch (G1T) to conclude her superb 4-year-old season. But Graham Motion scratched Miss Temple City due to the rain-softened ground, and a similar predicament appears to be in the offing. She's an "A" on firm turf, but tough to classify otherwise, and may not get the chance to run.

Along with Miss Temple City, four other are scheduled to make their seasonal debut in this 1 1/16-mile race, including Chad Brown's duo of Rainha Da Bateria (#1) and Dacita (#6), who finished noses apart on two occasions last year. Neither mare has experience with turf rated other than firm or good.

Time and Motion (#4) makes her second start of the year, after getting a needed tightener in the Coolmore Jenny Wiley (G1T), and puts blinkers on as well. While her only experience with turf labeled other than firm was a close fifth in the 2015 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1T), it's noteworthy that she won last year's edition of the Lake Placid (G2) through a driving rainstorm on a slick surface that caused problems for some others in the field.

Coming off a troubled trip in the Dahlia over a yielding course at Laurel Park, All in Fun (#5) makes her second start back from a six-month layoff, and has the look of a potential table-setter for her stablemate, On Leave (#7).

On Leave began 2016 as a maiden, but won four in a row, capped by the Sands Point (G2T), before coming up a flat fourth in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Presented by Lane's End (G1T) behind Time and Motion and Hawksmoor (#3). The latter won stakes over soft and yielding ground in Europe, so her connections are surely rooting for rain, and lots of it.

If firm:
A - 8
B - 1, 6
C - 3, 4, 7

If yielding or soft:

A - 1, 3, 6
B - 4, 7, 8

Man o' War, race 8, 5:13 ET: Course conditions are also key for the first grade 1 turf race on the New York calendar.

The venerable Twilight Eclipse (#7) won this race in 2015, and was second in 2013. But firmer is better for the 8-year-old gelding who established a world record of 2:22.63 seconds at 1 1/2 miles in the 2013 Pan American (G2T).

Twilight Eclipse wintered in Florida, and knocked heads with several others in this field, including Sadler's Joy (#1), Charming Kitten (#2), Wake Forest (#3), Patterson Cross (#6), and Taghleeb (#8).

Wake Forest won the 2016 Man o' War, and surprisingly enough, that turned out to be his only victory of the year from seven outings. He got back on track by edging Patterson Cross in the Mac Diarmida Stakes (G2T) first time back from a layoff, but his overall record indicates he also would prefer firm footing.

The Irish-bred mare Zhukova (#4) has won five of her last six starts dating back to September 2015, the lone blemish an off-the-board finish in the QIPCO British Champions Stakes (G1T). Three of those tallies came on ground rated soft or heavy, and she is in with a feathery 112 pounds for her United Stakes debut, after toting 135 pounds (twice) successfully overseas for Dermot Weld. The more it rains, the bigger a threat she becomes, in a spot where you can throw a blanket over the American-based horses.

If firm:

A - 1, 3, 6
B - 8
C - 2, 4

If yielding or soft:

A - 4
B - 1, 3, 6
C - 2, 8

Ruffian Stakes (G2), race 10, 6:17 ET: The stars may be aligned for Bar of Gold (#5), a homebred New York-bred mare by Medaglia d'Oro  , who is 0 for 11 in graded stakes, but a perfect five for five on wet tracks, capped by a freakish 18-length win in the Empire Distaff on a sloppy Belmont strip last fall.

Bar of Gold nearly wired the Raven Run Stakes (G2) in 2015, and projects to be forwardly placed breaking from the favorable outside post in this short field of five.

Given the ever-aggressive tendencies of Paco Lopez, you can bet he will have Verve's Tale (#2) on or near the lead. However, her upset win in the Comely Stakes (G3) at 20-1 last fall is the only race that makes her competitive.

The other New York-bred in the field is Highway Star (#3), an over-achieving daughter of Girolamo  , who beat High Ridge Road (#1) carrying 115 pounds in the Go for Wand Stakes (G3), and then beat Indulgent (#4) under 117 pounds in the Distaff Handicap (G3). She is saddled with 123 pounds now, though, and has very little margin for error, given the narrow margins of those victories.

A - 1, 5
B - 3, 4

 

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