09/09/2004 11:00PM

Del Mar duds more apparent than real


PHOENIX - Del Mar, Southern California's marquee meet of the summer, recently concluded and as usual you can expect national ramifications from some of the events there.

First, the juveniles.

You could hear the naysayers shouting "overrated" across the country when the much-ballyhooed Roman Ruler was defeated by Declan's Moon in the Del Mar Futurity on closing day Wednesday. Well, maybe some people got carried away after his two monstrous wins, but note his Beyer Speed Figure in defeat: 106. No juvenile had come close to that this year and, in fact, not many juveniles in the past decade or so have earned so high a number. Roman Ruler may have lost, but his performance validated the high regard. He simply got beat by a better horse on that day, and I've seen nothing nationally, including Afleet Alex , who should have Roman Ruler and his trainer, Bob Baffert, quaking in their boots.

The juvenile filly division, however, is more like a thousand-piece puzzle you just opened up and tossed on the floor. Inspiring was brilliant, but then she got hurt. Souvenir Gift was undefeated early on, ran well twice in defeat, but lost some of her spark. Proposed, a full-sister to Grade 1 winner Silent Sighs, was all the rage before she even started, and sure enough her debut in a stakes was excellent. Trouble is, she failed to back it up in the Del Mar Debutante. Her stablemate Sweet Catomine, meanwhile, did what Proposed was supposed to do - win the Debutante as a maiden, storming home late to win going away. Still, her Beyer (76) doesn't get the pulse racing.

Sense of Style and a few others have shown ability back East, but as yet there's no evidence of a Halfbridled out there right now.

Among the turf horses, Special Ring stands out. He not only validated trainer Julio Canani's ability to get a horse ready off a long vacation, but in winning his second straight Grade 1 Eddie Read he showed he's good as ever, and now targets the Breeders' Cup Mile at Lone Star on Oct. 30. But as good as he is, does Special Ring have what it takes to fend off whatever monsters ship in from across the Atlantic? Godolphin is talking about sending Refuse to Bend, there's word Whipper or American Post or Haafhd might be coming, maybe even defending champ Six Perfections.

It's funny, too, to hear some of the comments about Pleasantly Perfect after his Grade 1 Pacific Classic win. There are those who said he didn't show the same pizzazz he showed in last year's BC Classic win, or in his triumph in the Dubai World Cup. They also point to trainer Dick Mandella talking about training up to the BC Classic and deduce that it might mean something is amiss with Pleasantly Perfect.

More likely, it falls into Mandella's plan of keeping the horse fresh, not only for the BC Classic, but for a possible tilt at the Japan Cup and a run at Cigar's all-time earnings mark. Pleasantly Perfect looked good enough to me in his win, and weren't people saying the same thing about Tiznow prior to his second BC Classic win?

Del Mar did provide us with some emerging stars. While the East Coast folks are all abuzz about Kitten's Joy - and they should be - the West has a 3-year-old turf monster of its own in Blackdoun. Del Mar also gave us Kela, a one-time high-priced claimer and "nice" horse, who has suddenly emerged as a tiger, reminiscent of Lit de Justice or Swept Overboard with breathtaking final three furlongs of work. Oh, and I didn't give Del Mar Futurity winner Declan's Moon and his 107 Beyer enough props.

The meet showed us Sarafan isn't done just yet, and neither is Elloluv, who with Wild Spirit retired, Azeri showing some signs of vulnerability, Island Fashion only beginning her way back, and Sightseek reportedly not targeting the BC Distaff might be one to take seriously when we get to the Breeders' Cup.

Del Mar also showed us Musical Chimes is capable of jaw-dropping efforts.

The meet confirmed the amazing talent of Corey Nakatani and Kent Desormeaux. When they are completely focused, they're as good as riders get. It also signaled the future is now for jockey Tyler Baze.