Weekend Picks – July 17 – 18

17 Jul

By Dennis Miller

Three more days of races in Pleasanton kick off today at the Alameda County Fairgrounds with a 2:45 p.m. post.

After four weekends of racing under the banner of the Alameda County Fair, the next two weeks will be part of the California State Fair as they elected to run their allotted days of racing in Pleasanton.

The highlight of the weekend of racing will come Saturday with the running of the California Governor’s Handicap, a six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares, 3-years-old and up.

The race is set for the 8th on Saturday with a 6:12 p.m. post time. The morning line favorite for the race is Mother of Dragons (2/1), a runner owned and trained by Andreas Psarras.

Julien Couton is up for the second straight race and is coming off a win in a $40,000 optional claimer at Golden Gate Fields on May 31. The horse had been off for almost two years before coming back in January of this year.

She ran third in her debut and followed with a fifth, both in allowance races. Following another allowance race in March where she finished second, but was dropped to third after a review, Mother of Dragons came back with the win in the optional claimer.

Now after a break she is back here taking on five other runners. The last two starts she has shown the propensity to go to the lead, but history shows she can win from just off as well.

She has five wins in 11 career starts.

Princess Vivian (3/1) is the second choice and hails from the Sergio Ledezma barn.  Ridden by Catalino Martinez, the last start was a fourth over the turf in the Camila Urso at Golden Gate Fields on May 30.

This will be the first start on the dirt for the horse and is a move the barn rarely makes. The horse likes to come from off the pace and will need some serious pace out front to have a legit shot.

Misirlou (7/2) is trained by Steve Specht and will have the services of Frank Alvarado, a jockey that has hit at 36 percent in Pleasanton this year. The horse has one start on the dirt, a second-place finish in her debut in Santa Rosa last year.

That was followed by three straight wins and after the last of that run in early November, she was sent to the bench before returning May 31 with a third-place run in an optional claimer at GGF in the race that Mother of Dragons was the winner.

Since then there has been a series of good works and I look for a much stronger conditioned horse here.

Doug O’Neill will send Biddy Duke (6/1) north for the race and will have Kyle Frey in the irons. With 15 career starts over the dirt, Biddy Dukes has almost double the dirt experience from the rest of the field combined.

She has four wins in those starts and has hit the board in nine runs on the main track. The last start was a third-place effort in a stake at Santa Anita, the first start for O’Neill after his connections claimed the horse for $40,000 in the previous race.

The horse has the outside post and figures to be the one that sprints out to the lead and will certainly be right there at the very least.

Left Alone (5/1) runs for Manny Badilla gets William Antongeorgi for the ride. The winner of two of four starts this year, this will be another to push the pace, but not set it. The last start resulted in a poor seventh in the Camilla Urso where the horse never got going over the turf at GGF.

Badilla’s runners fare decent with the turf to dirt angle and Left Alone did a have bullet work on July 11, the best of 64 runners at five furlongs that morning.

Finally, Blue Diva (6/1) runs for Isidro Tamayo and has Francisco Monroy to handle the reigns. After a pedestrian sixth – last place – in the Golden Poppy at GGF in early June, Blue Diva came back to run fourth in an allowance race in Pleasanton on June 28.

The horse has shown to be more of a stalker than a pace setter and cuts back from a route to a sprint here. Not sure she has enough speed to stay close enough here.

My pick: This is a race where I will not go to the window until just before the race starts. If the early speed is holding is the case in Pleasanton, then my money would find its way to the outside with Biddy Duke. I just think the horse has seen much better races than the others and as one of only two 3-year-olds in the race, she is still getting better.

If the track has shown to set up for closers, I would be chasing who I think will get first run on the leaders and that would be Misirlou. The horse will sit closer than the other closers and hitting the lane first could be the key!

Friday’s card (7 races, 2:45 p.m. post)

The feature appears to be the second race at one mile and 70 yards and will go off at 3:22 p.m.

The $62,000 optional claimer will have a field of five, two of which will run for a tag.

Touched by Autism (3/1) has been a favorite of mine for awhile now. Owned by Johnny Taboada and trained by Marcia Stortz, the horse has been off for a year before returning to run last in the four-horse field of the Oak Tree Sprint on July 4.

Now he is back here and figures to be much stronger as he stretches out under the ride of David Lopez. This is the first non-stakes start in the last races and only the second non-stakes in the last 11 starts.

I just think there is too much here.

Arch Prince (2/1) and Builder (5/2) are the two favorites on the morning line. Arch Prince is trained by Samuel Calvario and is coming off a fifth in the Grade III San Francisco Mile over the turf on June 14 at GGF.

Builder runs for Tamayo and was the winner of a route over the turf at GGF on June 11. The barn is decent on the turf/dirt move, but he only has one win in 10 turf starts.

Sunday card (9 races, 2:45 p.m. post)

The most interesting race for me on Sunday to me is the 7th, a 5-furlong sprint for 2-year-olds.

It is these races during the summer Fair’s that give us a glimpse into what horses may be among the elite Northern California 3-yeard-olds next year.

Only three of these nine runners have a start, so it is tough to get any rhythm for this field.

Jonathan Wong is the top conditioner in Northern California and has a pair of first-time starters for Tommy Town Thoroughbreds and both should be ready to go for Wong, whose horses hit 19 percent in first stars.

Who You Say I Am has Lopez riding, with Lightinthedarkness has Alvarado up for the ride in his debut.

Of the ones with a start, Felix Rondan’s Champagne Pegasus looked the best, running third over the track in Pleasanton earlier in the meet. Catalino Martinez is back for the second start. The horse ran even in the debut but had no boost in the tank when they got to the lane. Expect more here.

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