09/24/2007 11:00PM

Cup trip on the line for Smarty Deb

EmailAUBURN, Wash. - There is a lot riding on Saturday's 1 1/16-mile Gottstein Futurity, and it doesn't all have to do with the $100,000 purse and divisional honors.

Smarty Deb has already wrapped up the track's 2-year-old filly divisional title with three straight impressive wins, and the purse, while very nice, pales in comparison with the one she has her sights on. That would be the $2 million that is up for grabs in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27.

"We would love to run her in that race, but she will have to earn her ticket," trainer Doris Harwood said. "She'll have to beat the boys in the Gottstein Futurity, and she will have to do it impressively. If she doesn't win, we wouldn't want to take her. And if she doesn't do it impressively, she might not get in."

There is no guarantee that Smarty Deb will be invited to run in the Breeders' Cup race even if she does win impressively Saturday. Half of the field will be determined by graded stakes earnings, of which Smarty Deb will have none. The other half will be selected by a committee. The committee might have a hard time ignoring Smarty Deb's credentials, however. Smarty Deb, a well-bred daughter of Smart Strike who races for breeder Jerre Paxton's Northwest Farms, would be undefeated after four starts, with three stakes wins and two wins over male competition.

She would, that is, if she wins the Gottstein. A win in that race is not a foregone conclusion because she will be meeting several talented and accomplished runners. Among the most talented and accomplished is stablemate Margo's Gift, whose only loss from four starts came when he was pulled up early in the one-mile WTBA Stakes on Sept. 1. Margo's Gift, a son of Polish Gift who runs for Ken Alhadeff's Elttaes Stable, grabbed a quarter in that race, and rider Ricky Frazier didn't know how badly he was hurt. As it turned out, the wound was superficial.

Lingering doubts about Margo's Gift's condition no doubt contributed to the fact that he went off as only the second choice to Midnight Martini in the six-furlong Captain Condo Stakes on Washington Cup Day, Sept. 16. Another factor might have been that Frazier got off Margo's Gift to ride Midnight Martini, but there was a reason for that.

"I gave Ricky his choice of mounts for the Futurity, and it was kind of a no-brainer that he chose Smarty Deb," Harwood explained. "In fairness, I told Mr. Alhadeff that Ricky wouldn't be riding Margo's Gift in the Gottstein, and he decided it would be best to let Juan Gutierrez ride him in both races. It worked out well, because Juan got to know him in the Captain Condo and he will know what to expect next time."

Under Gutierrez, Margo's Gift won the Captain Condo by seven lengths in a sizzling 1:08.40. That performance may earn Margo's Gift a trip of his own.

"If we take Smarty Deb to the Breeders' Cup, we'll bring Margo's Gift along," Harwood said. "There is a $250,000 stakes for 2-year-olds going six furlongs on the undercard, and he is eligible. We might as well take a shot with him."

Smarty Deb will be trying to become the first filly to win the Gottstein Futurity since Favored One in 1994, when the race was run at Yakima Meadows. Favored One went on to become a graded stakes winner in California.

Penney has pair in Gottstein

Smarty Deb will also be meeting a pair of very nice juveniles from the barn of trainer Jim Penney in the Gottstein. One is Gallon, who was disqualified from an apparent win over Margo's Pride in the six-furlong Premio Esmeralda before winning the one-mile WTBA Lads in his last outing. The other is Cafe Tortoni, who set the pace in the WTBA Lads before yielding only grudgingly to be beaten a neck in 1:37.20.

"I was very pleased with both horses," Penney said. "Gallon is by Victory Gallop, and we have felt all along that he was a route horse. I feel he will continue to improve with distance, and he will get a little more ground to work with in the Gottstein. I'm looking for another very good effort."

The trainer was at least as happy with Cafe Tortoni, who won his debut at five furlongs before being thrust into stakes company.

"It's not easy for a horse to go from five furlongs to a mile in his second start," said the trainer. "In fact, Cafe Tortoni did get tired in that race, but he still tried to fight back when Gallon came to him and he didn't get beat very far. I was very impressed with him, and I really don't know which of our horses has the better chance on Saturday. I just hope one of them can win it."

Win or lose, Penney said both Gallon, who races for Mike and Amy Feuerborn, and Cafe Tortoni, who races for David Millen's Moonrunners LLC, will go to Northern California with his daughter and assistant, Kay Cooper, after this meeting ends.

"We have several horses who didn't get to race enough at this meeting, including Gallon and Cafe Tortoni," Penney said. "We'll run them in California until the Golden Gate meeting ends, then we'll turn them out until spring."

Penney, who is best known for having won the Grade 3 Longacres Mile a record five times, has also won the Gottstein Futurity three times. He won the race with Pataha Prince in 1967, Chief Kamiakin in 1974, and Schoolin You in 2005.