07/18/2008 12:00AM

2-year-olds: SCOUTING REPORT


While established horses receive most of the Saratoga spotlight in races like the Travers, Whitney, and Woodward, the Spa offers handicappers an opportunity to find future stars in value-laden baby races.

Saratoga has been known as the "Graveyard of Favorites" since Upset shocked Man o' War in the 1919 Sanford, and the prices are still juicy for shrewd fans of juvenile races. War Pass paid $15.80 in his career debut at last year's Saratoga meet en route to an undefeated championship season. Big Brown, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness hero of 2008, returned $31.40 in his coming-out party on turf last September.

Many trainers gear their most talented babies for the Saratoga meet. Steve Asmussen and Todd Pletcher generally head any conversation about debut trainers, and while their assembly line of well-bred runners should always get respect, there doesn't seem to be much value in keying them to win.

Pletcher has sent out 17 juvenile debut winners over the last four meets, but the return on investment with all of his 89 first-time starters stands at a rather uninspiring $1.57.

Asmussen's stats are similar. Not counting the meet when assistant Scott Blasi stood in for his boss, Asmussen shows a 6-for-25 record with first-out Saratoga juveniles. While the 24 percent win ratio is impressive indeed, the return on investment is a lackluster $1.60. Last meet, the two powerhouse barns combined for only two juvenile debut winners.

It wouldn't be surprising if Asmussen and Pletcher both get off to hot starts in 2008, and handicappers are advised to check the daily work tab for possible "company" moves. Both Pletcher and Asmussen often send out juveniles of similar ability levels in company. If one of their babies wins early in the session, horseplayers should scan the tab for a possible workmate who will debut later in the meet.

Pletcher may try to get Mr Mistoffelees back on track at Saratoga. The $1.5 million February purchase was a dominant debut winner at Keeneland, but stumbled badly and lost all chance at the start of the Tremont at Belmont on June 29. Mr Mistoffelees is a son of the legendary Storm Cat out of stakes-winning Country Romance.

Garden District, a Dixie Union filly, won the Grade 3 Debutante at Churchill Downs on June 28 and may prove a stakes force in the Schuylerville or Adirondack.

Nick Zito and Bill Mott are great horsemen, but they don't get their just due as trainers of first-out juveniles. Many handicappers prefer the "wait-and-see" approach with their young horses, and are more inclined to bet them in their second races. By then, it's too late to make a score. Zito has sent out 11 juvenile debut winners over the past four meets, good for a positive return on investment of $2.58.

Aided by an infusion of quality young talent from the powerful Zayat Stables, Mott was responsible for seven juvenile debut winners during the 2007 Saratoga meet alone. Handicappers would be wise to include Zito and Mott on their "trainers to watch" lists at the Spa this season.

John Kimmel had three juvenile debut winners last meet, and his barn is gearing up for another strong season. During a recent telephone interview, Kimmel mentioned several young horses who bear watching during the meet. He is especially high on Break Water Edison, a $525,000 purchase in March at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's auction. Break Water Edison is by Lemon Drop Kid out of the multiple-stakes-winning Storm Creek mare August Storm.

Recent Belmont maiden winner Two Brash may get an opportunity to earn black type at Saratoga. A $300,000 yearling purchase by Awesome Again out of multiple stakes winner Impolite, he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 68 for his win, and Kimmel is confident that the horse will successfully stretch out in distance.

True Bliss, a half-sister to multiple stakes winner Cherokee Triangle, finished second in her debut at Belmont in June. The Yes It's True filly may have an experience edge over some of her potential Saratoga opponents.

Morethan Fourhours is a More Than Ready colt who has been working at Saratoga for Kimmel. He is a full brother to the stakes-placed turf performer Now More Than Ever.

Rushin Empire is bred to run all day. A son of Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, Rushin Empire is a half-brother to multiple Grade 1 router Behrens, and cost $425,000 at last year's Keeneland September yearling sale.

Other well-bred Kimmel juveniles include Close Encounter (Friends Lake-Inca Sun), Fast Tigress (Hold That Tiger-Fleeting Fable), Seattle Brew (Pleasant Tap-Slewdacious), Synchronicity (More Than Ready-Since Time Began), and Submerge (Fusaichi Pegasus-Indy Glory).

Eoin Harty has sent out some live juvenile performers at Saratoga over the last few years, and has a stakes-quality colt in Desert Party. A $2.1 million purchase by Darley Stable in February, Desert Party won first out at Arlington Park on June 22, and will be pointed for the Sanford Stakes on opening week. Desert Party is by Street Cry, and is a half-sister to multiple stakes winner Elliecat.

Another Sanford prospect is Notonthesamepage, a Catienus colt trained by Wesley Ward for Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey. Notonthesamepage earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 104 for his victory in a maiden special weight at Churchill Downs on April 30.

Kelly Breen trains the impressive juvenile filly Bold Union. A winner of both lifetime starts by a combined 20 1/2 lengths, Bold Union may start in the Spinaway.

Other notable Saratoga first-out trainers include Richard Dutrow Jr., Richard Violette Jr., and Stanley Hough. Dutrow sports a 31 percent win mark over the last four meets with a $2.58 return on investment, while Violette has sent out seven juvenile debut winners for a 20 percent ratio. Hough is clicking at 19 percent with a $2.06 return.

Fans of New York-bred maiden special weights should look out for upset-minded youngsters trained by Scott Schwartz, Linda Rice, Dominic Galluscio, and Mark Hennig.

Surprisingly, several well-known trainers have struggled with their Saratoga firsters. Gary Contessa is only 2 for 37 over the last four meets with his debuters. Shug McGaughey is 1 for 22 over that time period, while Dale Romans is 1 for 17. Neil Howard, Dallas Stewart, and Wayne Lukas are a combined 0 for 78.

Young sires Lion Heart, Hook and Ladder, Friends Lake, and Read the Footnotes should bear watching over the Saratoga main track while veterans like Stormy Atlantic, Tale of the Cat, Distorted Humor, and Smoke Glacken usually get their share of precocious juveniles.

Freud is an interesting source of New York-bred turf performers.