December 14, 2001

Saturday Stakes at Hollypark
It's a down time in the racing world, and even here in sunny (but not today) Southern California, we'll get eight days without live racing between the Dec. 17 closing of Hollywood Park and the day-after-Christmas opening of the big meet at Santa Anita, for which you'll get your usual in-depth meet analysis next Friday.

In the meantime, Hollywood goes out this weekend kicking and screaming in a fitful juvenile tantrum, what with the running Saturday of the Hollywood Futurity for two-year-olds and Sunday's Hollywood Starlet for the two-year-old fillies. Due to distribution limitations, we'll focus solely on the Futurity.

Or at least the Futurity-day card, which comes equipped with two smaller stakes. That'll be our easy way out (a biweekly schedule? nevah!) for this edition. We appreciate your kind indulgence, and Happy Hanukkah to our many Jewish readers. Best wishes for a joyous Festival of Lights.

The first of the supporting events is the third race, the Grade II, $150,000 Dahlia Handicap for turf fillies and mares at a mile and a sixteenth.

What do you look for in a turf winner? Late speed, huh? Yeah, that's a good start (or finish, as the case may be). And with such speedsters as second-time turfer Favorite Funtime, Apollo's Music, Queen of Wilshire, Dancingonice and Casa's Kids ready to mix it up on the front end, the prospect of a successful rally only gets stronger.

Two no-effort dropouts form the Grade I Matriarch look like the genuine late-speed this time. Verruma, had a bad trip last time, though at 38-1, but is a Grade III winner and now gets a much more favorable setup to run down at the end. She'll save all the ground from the rail, though it might cause her some anxious moments trying to get out late. Nonetheless, jockey Garrett Gomez is a quality finisher who should be able to extricate Verruma from any jam, and on the way to a strong finish.

Kalatiara was awesome in her U.S. debut five months ago, powerhousing past a good pace to take a Grade III over this very turf course. She got her horse's head handed to her (but not like in "The Godfather") in two subsequent Grade I's, but she's had a nice rest, and should appreciate the large dropoff in talent level in this one.

Best of all, Verruma and Kalatiara are overshadowed by horses with better reputations and recent form, and the prices should be right. Win bets on both are in order.

The Grade II, $150,000 Bayakoa Handicap is the other added-money warmup, a mile and a sixteenth on the main track. Tranquility Lake ("Ever heard of her?" -- Todd T. Schrupp, TVG) heads the field, bringing along with her a couple of other Breeders' Cup Distaff also-rans. More on all of them later.

More generally, the Bayakoa features several up-front types who know how to deal with genuine dirt fractions on top, whether by leading or sitting just off the engine. Starrer is one of them, and the great Jerry Bailey even flies in for the mount. But both horse and rider will have to overcome trainer David Hofman's persistent difficulties with horses coming back off the layoff. Good luck.

Feverish looks strong on all counts, except that she's coupled in the wagering with Tranquility Lake, which obliterates the price on both. Nonetheless, in this race, Feverish looks stronger than 'Tranquility, who still is better on turf and who won't like having to deal with sustained pressure throughout.

Benefiting from all of it should be Queenie Belle, who isn't the most ferocious closer in the field but could find herself in the proverbial right place at the right time -- namely attacking for the lead when the field straightens for the drive.

Critikola and Cee Dreams might be clunking along for a share, with the potential bomb being Tropical Lady, a South American trained by Eduardo Inda over what could be damp track. History repeats, and the horse for whom the race is named herself fit that pattern. In the end, play up Queenie Belle, saving with Critikola, Cee Dreams and Tropical Lady.

Now for the main event, the Grade I, $200,000 Hollywood Futurity at a mile and a sixteenth. Eight are entered, and two of them are named Officer and Siphonic, who, if nothing other than reputation was involved, would dominate the wagering.

Despite the availability of information beyond the horses' names, Officer and Siphonic still figure to live up to the morning-linemaker's lofty estimations. Officer was the odds-on favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Siphonic, though third in that race race, did finish well ahead of Officer.

But it's more than a two-horse race. Fonz's won the Grade III Hollywood Prevue last time, moving forward off a six-month vacation. He'll again try to dispute the issue throughout, but his pedigree doesn't seem two-turn-friendly.

Publication also beat Officer in the Breeders' Cup, a 100-1 shot besting a 3-5. That could happen again tomorrow.

Mountain Rage absolutely exploded on turf last time, but the transition back to dirt might not be what he wants.

Yougottawanna ground down Officer last time, and has been consistently good in a variety of situations -- dirt, turf, short, long. Not the most brilliant animal in here, but one who knows how to win.

Siphonic, like Starrer in the Bayakoa, has to get past Hofman's reluctance with returnees.

On close inspection, it's by no means a cut-and-dried race, so let's try something wacky (when don't we?) and key on two horses that could get lost in the shuffle -- Publication and Yougottawanna. And should those two complete an overlooked exacta, it'll make for an early Christmas.

New Contest Is for the Long Run
If you prefer a route of ground to a one-turn sprint, the current edition of the Big-Prize Handicapping Contest is for you! For more details, please click here.

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