by Ted Black

In the weeks between the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, racing fans might find it difficult to  get excited about the feature races at most tracks.  But a trio of races in the Mid-Atlantic region on Saturday, two of them stakes, appear to offer intriguing handicapping challenges.

One week after hosting the famed Preakness Stakes, Pimlico will not offer a stakes on its Saturday card  but the feature is an allowance/optional $25,000 claiming race for fillies and mares at five furlongs on the grass. Several of the contenders bring good recent form, while two others offer some  serious back class.

There are plenty of quick mares capable of reaching the wire first, but the most likely one appears to be Nistletoe. A five-year-old Van Nistelrooy mare trained by Dane Kobiskie, Nistletoe has won six of 11 career outings and clearly thrives on the grass. She posted her only previous tally this year at Atlantic City, and last fall she reeled off three straight turf sprint tallies on the grass course at Laurel Park.

But a victory by No Satis Action, a five-year-old Action This Day mare trained by Hugh McMahon, would come as no surprise. Second in a sprint over the Pimlico strip earlier this month, No Satis Action has won six of 17 career outings with one of them coming against allowance rivals and four others in claiming ranks.

Another solid upset possibility is Heaven Knows What, who may be winless in five starts this year but each of her outings came against allowance foes at Gulfstream Park. She only owns two wins in a 13-race career for trainer Mike Trombetta, but she bested maiden special weight foes in her second start at Colonial Downs and then two starts later won the Oakley Stakes there.

Clearly the most experienced mare in the group is World Gone Wrong, a seven-year-old Proud Citizen mare who boasts 21 victories in 55 career outings and earnings of more than $350,000.  The bad news is that World Gone Wrong has not won a race in over a year. She garnered her diploma against maiden special weight foes way back in 2008 at Woodbine Race Course in Canada and also captured an allowance race there, but her 19 victories since then have all come against claimers.

Jo Talbot’s selections:

  1. #2 No Satis Action
  2. #5 Nistletoe
  3. #3 Dan’s Last Stand
  4. #7 Classe Signora

Roughly an hour later, Monmouth Park will present the $75,000 Majestic Light Stakes, which has attracted a talented group to compete at the unorthodox distance of one mile and 70 yards on the main track.  Among the starters are a trio horses who boasted Triple Crown aspirations at age three, another with ample recent Graded stakes experience, and the defending champion of this event.

Trainer Kelly Breen will saddle two horses in the Majestic Light, Ruler On Ice and Pants On Fire.  Ruler On Ice posted an upset victory in the Belmont Stakes two years ago.  He has started in six Grade I races since, but his best finish is a third-place effort in the Breeders Cup Classic in 2011.  His lone victory since the Belmont came in a January allowance race at Gulfstream Park.

Pants On Fire had won the Louisiana Derby before finishing ninth in the Kentucky Derby in 2011, and the five-year-old Jump Start gelding would reach the $1 million plateau in career earnings with a first- or second-place finish in the Majestic Light. This Breen trainee also owns two prior stakes victory over the Monmouth main track, the Skip Away last May and the Pegasus 11 months earlier.

Like Ruler On Ice and Pants On Fire, Gourmet Dinner once had aspirations of attaining Triple Crown glory, especially after his victory in the Delta Jackpot virtually secured him a berth in the Kentucky Derby.   But Gourmet Dinner did not deliver on his precocious promise and he is also winless in four starts this year. He may not have a genuine fondness for the oval like Pants On Fire, but Gourmet Dinner arrives as the defending champion of the Majestic Light, capturing the 2012 renewal last July.

Idle since running fourth in the Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct last fall, Buffum is the morning line favorite for this event and he has been training forwardly for his seasonal debut for trainer Tom Albertrani. Hero of the Grade III Bold Ruler last fall, Buffum is no stranger winning races off an extended layoff. He does, however, typically do his best running at Belmont Park where he has posted three of his four lifetime tallies.

Bowman’s Beast is clearly at a disadvantage in terms of back class, but the Bowman’s Band gelding has won three of four lifetime starts for trainer Cathal Lynch. He garnered his diploma against maiden claimers in his second try, followed that up with a starter allowance tally then captured an allowance affair, all at Parx Racing, in his next start. His connections probably expected the Majestic Light to come up considerably softer that it did.

Jo Talbot’s selections:

  1. #8 Buffum
  2. #9 Pants on Fire
  3. #6 Spring Hill Farm
  4. #4 Jimanator

Our final featured race of the day is the latest renewal of the $50,000 Fancy Buckles Stakes, a 4 1/2 furlong dash for state-bred fillies and mares at Charles Town. That race could easily be billed as the battle among West Virginia-bred distaff royalty, the reigning queen, Down Town Allen and the budding princess looking to dethrone her, Jax And Jill.

Down Town Allen, who opened her 2013 campaign with a handy victory in the $50,000 Original Gold Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares on the Charles Town Classic undercard last month, has won 16 of 31 lifetime outings and earned over $700,000 for owner-breeder-trainer John A. Casey. Along the way she has captured 14 stakes, including the two previous runnings of the Fancy Buckles and then last year’s edition of the $250,000 Cavada on West Virginia Breeders Classics night.

Down Town Allen brings a five-race win streak into the Fancy Buckles and she will likely be the solid favorite at post time, but the lightning quick three-year-old filly, Jax And Jill, will look to end that skein and perhaps take an early bid at unseating the Casey homebred from the local throne. Jax And Jill won four of five starts last year and opened her sophomore campaign with a three-length score in a one-turn allowance here, getting the distance in 52.02 in a race that was hand-timed.

Jax And Jill won her first two starts against open company at Parx and then Timonium and she made an immediate local impression by taking the Rachel’s Turn and then the Triple Crown Nutrition Stakes on the West Virginia Breeders Classics undercard. She suffered her lone setback in a minor stakes at Laurel Park last fall following an early speed duel, but she proved fresh and fit when taking an allowance event here in her seasonal debut on May 1 for trainer Scott Lake and owner-breeder Robert Cole, Jr.

Looking to upend both Down Town Allen and Jax And Jill is another speedy mare who has enjoyed plenty of success over the local strip. Fear The Facelift has won twice in four starts this year and sports a 7-2-6 slate and $170,000 bankroll from 19 career outings. All seven of her wins have come at Charles Town, including the President’s Day Handicap in February for trainer Donald Barr.

Jo Talbot’s selections:

  1. #2 Jax and Jill
  2. #5 Down Town Allen
  3. #4 Fear the Facelift
  4. #7 Autumn Affair