Sap­phire Kit­ten looks ap­peal­ing

Daily Racing Form National Digital Edition - - News - BY­RON KING

With the Ken­tucky Derby slightly more than three months away, I’m ea­ger to watch the With­ers Stakes at Aqueduct and the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulf­stream Park on Satur­day to see how those 3-year-olds stack up. Un­for­tu­nately, they aren’t ex­cit­ing wa­ger­ing races, with short fields and seem­ingly a stand­out run­ner in each race.

So, I’ll wa­ger on other stakes, first a sup­port­ing grass race at Gulf­stream, the Sweet­est Chant, fol­lowed by the Space City Stakes and the Hous­ton Ladies Clas­sic at Sam Hous­ton on Satur­day evening.

Sweet­est Chant Stakes

In con­trast to the three dirt stakes at Gulf­stream, all of which drew short fields, the Sweet­est Chant at­tracted 12 3-year-old fil­lies, mak­ing it one of the bet­ter wa­ger­ing races on the card.

My ini­tial im­pres­sion was that four or five fil­lies had about equal chances of vic­tory, but upon closer in­spec­tion, I kept find­ing Sap­phire Kit­ten more at­trac­tive. Since win­ning at first ask­ing in a lu­cra­tive maiden race at Ken­tucky Downs, she has run com­pet­i­tively with the elite in the divi­sion, run­ning se­cond to Har­mo­nize in the Grade 3 Jes­samine at Keeneland on Oct. 7, fourth in the Breed­ers’ Cup Ju­ve­nile Fil­lies Turf there three weeks later, and then third in the Wait a While Stakes at Gulf­stream Park West on Nov. 28.

Al­though Sap­phire Kit­ten lost as the fa­vorite in the Wait a While and re­gressed to a 73 Beyer Speed Fig­ure af­ter earn­ing an 82 in the Breed­ers’ Cup, she had ex­cuses for do­ing so. Un­lucky to draw post 13 in a 14-horse field, she raced four to five wide through­out and was far­ther off the pace than nor­mal, run­ning in the rear half of the pack.

De­spite this, she man­aged to close from 10th to miss se­cond in a photo on a turf course that was so dry and chewed up that the lead­ers seemed to leave a dust cloud in their wake for the late run­ners to breathe.

Sap­phire Kit­ten is drawn much bet­ter in the Sweet­est Chant in post 2, from where she should be able to save ground and rate in a stalk­ing po­si­tion. She’s also re­united with jockey Julien Leparoux, who was up for her maiden win and fine stakes ef­forts at Keeneland.

Space City Stakes

Turn­ing to Sam Hous­ton, which will be run­ning late into the night Satur­day, the first of two plays comes in the sev­enth race, the Space City, a six-fur­long race for 3-yearolds.

I like Mud Light, an al­ways well-re­garded colt from the Steve As­mussen sta­ble who fi­nally put things to­gether with a blowout maiden win at Rem­ing­ton Park on Dec. 2 in which he ran an 80 Beyer. And though the fig­ure rep­re­sented a gi­ant leap for­ward, he should avoid bounc­ing af­ter hav­ing nearly two months be­tween starts.

He’s 8-1 on the morn­ing line but has no shot of start­ing at that price. Ex­pect him to go off around 3-1 or 7-2, pro­vided likely fa­vorite Twirling Cin­na­mon is not scratched af­ter be­ing cross-en­tered in Sun­day’s Keith Gee Me­mo­rial at Fair Grounds.

Hous­ton Ladies Clas­sic

For­ever Un­bri­dled and Cas­satt are the “name” horses in the $400,000 Hous­ton Ladies Clas­sic, but I see faults in both, leav­ing me ea­ger to back Theogony as a val­uepriced al­ter­na­tive.

For­ever Un­bri­dled won the Grade 3 Comely last year and chased I’m a Chat­ter­box un­suc­cess­fully a num­ber of times at Fair Grounds in stakes last spring and win­ter. But the 3-year-old filly dirt crop was below par in 2015, and now she’s run­ning with older mares.

The vet­eran Cas­satt also is ex­pected to take heavy ac­tion, hav­ing won this race in 2015, one of seven vic­to­ries from her 12 starts. But I wasn’t par­tic­u­larly im­pressed by what she did in two starts late last year, even though one re­sulted in a vic­tory at Rem­ing­ton Park, where she nar­rowly held off the Ok­la­homa-bred for­mer claimer Rib­bon of Dark­ness by a neck.

So, I’m tak­ing Theogony, who has suc­cess­fully tran­si­tioned from rac­ing on Poly­track to dirt, run­ning se­cond in her last two starts in stakes com­pany. One of those run­ner-up fin­ishes came in the Falls City Hand­i­cap at Churchill and the other off the bench in the Pip­pin Stakes at Oak­lawn on Jan. 17.

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