09/10/2006 11:00PM

Cacique serves notice to BC rivals


NEW YORK - With such European-based standouts as Hurricane Run, Shirocco, and perhaps Dylan Thomas as candidates, the Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4 is likely to be a much more difficult race than last Saturday's Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park. This should not detract, however, from the eye-opening victory by Cacique.

Everyone knew Cacique was a good horse. He was sent off as the 8-5 favorite in the Man o' War with a North American resume that included a win in the Manhattan Handicap; narrowly beaten seconds in the Arlington Million, United Nations, and Woodford Reserve Turf Classic; and an unlucky loss in the Frank E. Kilroe, in which Cacique was beaten a neck after being carried to the parking lot turning for home. Yet, as solid and as steady as Cacique's record in this country was, it also invited some scrutiny. All those narrow defeats made it valid to question Cacique's killer instinct. Even the race he won, the Manhattan, was open to interpretation, because Cacique essentially controlled a very slow pace and was all out to prevail in a blanket finish with three other opponents, two of whom had much tougher trips.

That is why Cacique's performance in the Man o' War was a revelation. Content to sit farther off the early pace than he had been in most of his previous U.S. starts, Cacique split horses then stormed up the rail in the stretch with an acceleration that was nothing short of devastating. He went his final eighth of a mile in 10.95 seconds, an insanely fast final split in a 1 3/8-mile race like the Man o' War, and especially so when you consider that Cacique accomplished it over an inner turf course that had some definite cut to it. Any horse who can relax and finish the way Cacique did Saturday should have no difficulty stretching out to the 1 1/2 miles of the Breeders' Cup Turf. And while there are some critical Breeders' Cup Turf prep races still to be run, it could easily turn out that off his Man o' War, Cacique will be North America's best hope.

Only a nose separated Go Deputy and Showing Up for second and third in the Man o' War. Yet the result had to be very encouraging for one while a sharp disappointment for the other. Even though it snapped his two-race win streak, Go Deputy's second-place finish had to please his people because it proved this 6-year-old is an improved horse and that his recent wins in the Sword Dancer and Bowling Green were not entirely a function of weak fields. As for the 3-year-old Showing Up, he had a perfect trip stalking the comfortable pace set by rank outsider Ramazutti and had every chance to win in the stretch but was simply outkicked, punching a big hole in the notion that he might be this year's Kitten's Joy. But Showing Up's loss might not have been completely attributable to his facing older horses. It's reasonable to think that it might have been the additional distance that was his undoing. It is, in any event, too early to give up on Showing Up. The move now could be to back him up in distance and go for a race like the Breeders' Cup Mile, although that race won't be a picnic, either.

Pine Island leaps ahead of Bushfire

The Man o' War capped an excellent day of racing at Belmont on Saturday that saw an impressive debut by an exciting 2-year-old prospect, Nobiz Like Shobiz, and a dominating victory by Magnificent Song in the Garden City Breeders' Cup. It's scary to think Magnificent Song is only the second-best 3-year-old turf filly in trainer Todd Pletcher's barn, behind Wait a While.

But it was Pine Island's score in the Gazelle Handicap that had greater impact. With that win, Pine Island has now officially wrested command of the 3-year-old filly division from Bushfire. Many people had the sense over the summer that with her victory in Saratoga's Alabama, Pine Island had developed into the better filly. But going into the Gazelle, Bushfire still had claim to divisional leadership, because she narrowly defeated Pine Island in the Mother Goose in their only meeting, and she had three Grade 1 stakes victories this year to Pine Island's one. Bushfire still has a narrow advantage in Grade 1 wins, but there is no longer any doubt as to who is the better horse.

In fairness to Bushfire, the Gazelle was her first start in 10 weeks, and all she had to do to still be considered on the same level with Pine Island was be reasonably competitive. Instead, Bushfire was finished turning for home and beaten nearly 15 lengths, whereas Pine Island, with her trademark relentless rally, nailed Teammate in the late stages, just as she did in the Alabama.