07/22/2007 11:00PM

After Market has all the moves

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DEL MAR, Calif. - He's big, he's beautiful, and now he is a bona fide California star, with two major wins to his credit and riches looming down the road. As the emergent king of West Coast grass racing, 4-year-old After Market has nothing but upside, as anyone who saw Sunday's Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar will readily testify.

The Read followed on the heels of After Market's upset of Lava Man in the Whittingham Memorial at Hollywood Park, a remarkable race in itself, since Lava Man running on any kind of home ground is never prone to go quietly. The fact that Lava Man has finished behind only one horse in 11 California starts since January 2006 says all anyone needs to know about him. It also may say all we need to know about After Market.

But there is more. After Market, a son of the tempestuous Storm Cat, is an old-fashioned handful, wrapped in a pedigree that already has major breeders drooling. Trained first by Bill Mott in the East and since February by John Shirreffs, After Market is giving constant companion Alex Solis the kind of chills associated with great expectations.

"He feels like he could do anything," Solis said.

As far as his local competition is concerned, After Market has pretty much run out of targets. In terms of style, he can stalk or chase, depending on the pace, then pounce and close the deal, galloping out as if just warming to the task. In fact, of all the things that may stand in After Market's way, the only thing that might keep him from his appointed rounds is, sad to say, Polytrack.

Not just Del Mar's Polytrack, but also the Cushion Track surface at Hollywood Park, where After Market has been training since his arrival from Florida earlier this year.

"He doesn't like synthetic surfaces," said Shirreffs at his barn Monday morning, as After Market took a turn in the sun. "He's a big, strong, heavy horse, and he can't drive off the synthetic surface. The surface is kind on him, but he's not happy. He can't utilize his true ability. So we've galloped him on the training track, but when he works, we practically have to drag him to the main track."

If Shirreffs is right - and horses like Giacomo, Manistique, Tiago, Hollywood Story, and Stanley Park would back him up - the trainer might need to send After Market back to Hollywood Park, since Del Mar does not have a first-class training track.

"That's what I'm trying to decide right now," Shirreffs said.

Mott, who no longer has to make such decisions about After Market, has not been surprised to see the colt blossom into a marquee horse out West, even though he was slow to develop.

"That's what was so surprising when he won first time out," Mott said, referring to After Market's maiden win at Aqueduct in November of his 2-year-old season. "After that, the light went on, and really began to glow."

A small chip was taken off one of After Market's sesamoids in late 2005, then he returned to whip off three straight wins in 2006, including victories in the Lexington at Belmont and the Hall of Fame at Saratoga, before sinking into a Delaware Park bog at even money in the 2006 Kent Stakes. The 1 1/8 miles was run in 1:56 and change that day.

Mott does not take such a race lightly. After Market was allowed a break and was sent to Mott's Midwest string based at Keeneland. When the colt went back to work, he was training on - you guessed it - Polytrack.

"And you know, he didn't do that well on it," Mott said.

Handing off a talented horse from one trainer to another is delicate business, even when dealing with class acts like Mott and Shirreffs. Marty Wygod, a Del Mar director and local resident who bred and owns After Market with his wife, Pam, did it once before with the talented sprinter Yankee Gentleman, who ended up winning a small stakes at Del Mar.

So don't ask Mott to do handstands after losing a colt with the potential of After Market, and don't look for the diplomatic Shirreffs to say anything public other than "thank you" when such an animal shows up in his barn.

"He was a graded stakes winner before he got here," Shirreffs said. "So you knew he was a very nice horse, a horse of high quality. It became a matter of how we were going to adjust to him and how he was going to adjust to us. It has to be a mutual thing when a horse comes in like that, and things have worked out."

Worked out big time, with Mott in admiration from afar.

"After what he's done, it's hard to say that the owner made a mistake sending him to California," Mott said. "That doesn't mean I don't wish I still had him. He was becoming the kind of grass horse that I would have pointed toward races like the Manhattan and the Arlington Million, and you don't get too many of those."

After Market must have been listening, since the Arlington Million is precisely where he is scheduled to turn up next.