07/02/2004 12:00AM

Black Bart keeps movin' on up


PHOENIX - He's worked his way from the mail room to middle management, and now eyes a slot in the executive wing. For Black Bart, Sunday's Grade 2 American Handicap is his big chance.

Early on, Black Bart couldn't even win a California-bred allowance. His trainer at the time, Grant Hofmans, dropped him into a $16,000 claiming event here in December 2003. Black Bart finished last of seven after being fractious at the gate and breaking poorly. He was claimed by Troy Bainum that day. Few considered it a coup for Bainum.

But how things have changed. Bainum took Black Bart to Turf Paradise and put him into turf routes. He won an allowance at a mile, then came back to romp in a classified allowance race Jan. 12. Suddenly, Bainum had something. Bainum entered Black Bart, a 5-year-old, in the Turf Paradise Breeders' Cup Handicap against the likes of Irish Warrior, who just a few months earlier had finished fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Mile. Black Bart just missed to Irish Warrior's desperate lunge at the end. It was a defeat on paper, but it was a victory in every other regard.

Bainum wheeled Black Bart back in two stakes at Turf Paradise, one on dirt, one on turf, and he won both. He shipped to Hollywood Park for the April 24 Khaled and won, and he was third sprinting on dirt in the Ack Ack at Hollywood on May 31. Then he went virtually wire to wire to win the June 13 Quicken Tree at 1 1/2 miles.

So now it's on to the next step - graded stakes. It isn't going to be easy facing the likes of Bayamo, who was second in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham at Hollywood, or Sarafan, a Grade 1 stakes winner, but Black Bart has come a long way in a short period of time. He's got speed, versatility, and guts, and the 1 1/8-mile distance suits him.

Here comes little sis

Last spring, when Atswhatimtalknbout was second in the Grade 2 San Felipe and fourth in the Kentucky Derby, Atswhatimtalknbout appeared on his way to bigger and better things. But Atswhatimtalknbout, a son of A.P. Indy, hasn't raced since, due primarily to foot troubles. So maybe Monday's Grade 3 Landaluce at Hollywood is a chance for the family to continue to make a splash, this time on the coattails of his little sister, Thatswhatimean.

A 2-year-old Belong to Me filly owned by B. Wayne Hughes, the same man who owns Atswhatimtalknbout, Thatswhatimean may be more bred for speed than her brother. She certainly came out running. A $350,000 yearling purchase, Thatswhatimean stalked the pace and won going away in her five-furlong debut at Hollywood on June 13.

Thatswhatimean is scheduled to resurface in Monday's Landaluce at six furlongs, and her connections have high hopes for her future.

There are a couple of major hurdles for her, however, on Monday. First off, she faces other winners for the first time and is hooking many of the most promising 2-year-old fillies on the circuit. Bella Banissa was second in her debut, which came in the Nursery Stakes at Hollywood on May 19. Kash Klip romped by six in her debut, at Calder, and now surfaces for trainer Doug O'Neill after being privately purchased. Souvenir Gift is 2 for 2, counting the June 6 Cinderella among her achievements.

But the biggest problem may come in the form of My Miss Storm Cat. A Bob Baffert-trained daughter of Sea of Secrets, My Miss Storm Cat looked tremendous first time out, cruising to the lead and drawing off to win by 10 under wraps. Her 99 Beyer is easily the highest figure posted by a 2-year-old this year. Only Diligent Prospect (93), Actxecutive (92), and Dream Time (91) even approach it.

Thatswhatimean, meanwhile, earned only a 64 for her debut tally. But remember we're talking about young, inexperienced 2-year-olds, so drastic improvement is the norm. For example, Serena's Song posted Beyers of 54 and 59 in her first two career outings, but things worked out pretty well for her, right?