09/05/2007 11:00PM

Difficult group to gauge


Just as Saratoga is a wonderful forum for spotting promising 2-year-olds, the same usually is true for juveniles at Del Mar.

Unfortunately, this year's crop of 2-year-olds who were seen at Del Mar were difficult to assess, given the Polytrack experiment and the extraordinary slow times and slow finishing splits they delivered on the new surface.

How good, for instance, was Tasha's Miracle, who won the 6 1/2-furlong Sorrento Stakes on Aug. 8 by 3 1/4 lengths in 1:19.40 - about three seconds slower than a typical graded stakes for 2-year-olds on a dirt track?

Beyond Tasha's Miracle's slow final time, which earned a moderate 80 Beyer Speed Figure, she needed 26 seconds to get from the half-mile marker to six furlongs and about 6.80 seconds to complete her final sixteenth of a mile. The finishing splits leave questions regarding the possible performance we can expect from Tasha's Miracle at longer distances on standard dirt tracks.

Will she have gained important conditioning from having had to deal with Polytrack? If so, how much improvement can we expect? What of the horses that did not like the synthetic surface? Can we expect to see major form reversals when the same horses ship to Santa Anita or Hollywood to run on Cushion track?

Will the Polytrack winners need to re-appear on that surface to replicate or improve upon their successful Del Mar races?

Given all these open-ended questions, I personally am leaving considerable room for reassessing the Southern California juveniles when they run elsewhere. In the meantime, the best of them seen at Del Mar were:

Juvenile fillies

* Tasha's Miracle: John Sadler-trained daughter of Harlan's Holiday out of a Relaunch mare turned in three good sprints, including a second-place finish in her career debut at Hollywood on June 2, so she should handle the Cushion Track as well.

* Treadmill: Craig Dollase-trained daughter of E Dubai won her career debut at Hollywood, was second to 33-1 shot The Golden Noodle in the Landaluce on June 30, and then finished well to win the CTBA Stakes at Del Mar on July 20. Finished her final sixteenth in less than 6.60 seconds and worked forwardly towards the Del Mar Debutante on Sept. 3.

* Comical Vacation: Jeff Mullins trainee was sixth in her career debut - in the CTBA Stakes - on July 20 and then graduated against Cal-bred maidens with a solid wire-to- wire performance at 5 1/2 furlongs Aug. 6. Completed her final sixteenth in 6.60 seconds without much pressure from jockey Michael Baze and galloped out well.

* Izarra: Graduated at first asking for Hall of Famer Ron McAnally, who rarely has his first timers ready to fire. This one blew away a maiden field at six furlongs with a quick move entering the stretch and galloped out strongly. Earned an okay 77 Beyer for that race while finishing her final furlong a shade faster than 12.80 seconds. Bred to handle any distance or surface.

* Spring Awakening: Mike Mitchell-trained daughter of In Excess was an okay third in her Hollywood Park debut July 8 and improved significantly when she graduated with an 85 Beyer at Del Mar on Julyo23. One to watch in one-turn sprints.

* Set Play: Graduated nicely in debut at Hollywood on June 7, then finished third in the Landaluce Stakes 13 days later before her okay second-place finish behind Tasha's Miracle in the Sorrento. By the European-raced Van Nistelrooy, who is a son of Storm Cat, so we may not see her best until she tries the turf. Trained by Peter Miller, who had an outstanding meet.

* More Happy: Bob Baffert-trained daughter of Vindication made the Saratoga list I posted last week after she won a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race over the Del Mar Polytrack and shipped east to win the Adirondack at 6 1/2 furlongs. A talented miss, but from what I saw at Del Mar and Saratoga, she will need to be trained judiciously to get seven furlongs.

* Cry and Catch Me: Baffert may not have liked the Polytrack but he unveiled some sharp winners during the second half of the meet while the bulk of his stable was at Saratoga doing the same. This one looked good winning a maiden sprint and is a probable graded stakes type.

* Gentle Audrey: Rallied for third behind Izarra in career debut on July 20 and improved noticeably to win an above-average six-furlong maiden sprint Sept. 2. Low-profile, high-percentage trainer Melody Conlon seems to have a runner on her hands. By Elusive Quality out of a Capote mare, Gentle Audrey is bred for middle distances and wet tracks. Unfortunately in the new era of synthetic tracks, there will not be any wet tracks for her to run on in Southern California.

* Golden Doc A: Barry Abrams trainee had a bad start when fifth in her career debut July 8 at Hollywood, but looked good winning her next at Del Mar. Earned an 80 Beyer and covered her final furlong in a shade less than 13 seconds, a relatively good finishing split on this unusual racing surface. A daughter of Unusual Heat whose progeny are doing well on synthetic tracks.

Juvenile males

Many of the juveniles named below were entered in the Del Mar Futurity on closing day, Sept. 5.

* Salute the Sarge: Won a maiden race and the Hollywood Juvenile Championship very gamely and stretched out to 6 1/2 furlongs to win the Best Pal Stakes over the Del Mar strip Aug. 12, with an 80 Beyer and a final sixteenth of a mile clocked in about 6.50 seconds.

* Georgie Boy: Graduated in - appropriately enough - the Graduation Stakes in his third start July 25. Set the pace and held relatively well for second behind Salute the Sarge in the Best Pal. Must see more to properly evaluate his prospects at seven furlongs and longer.

* Topper Shopper: Steadily improving son of Old Topper trained by Doug O'Neill graduated in his third start and his first on the Polytrack. One of a handful of maiden winners at Del Mar that will have to prove himself on other surfaces.

* Drill Down: Michael Machowsky-trained son of the terrific miler El Corredor was okay third in career debut and improved nicely to win his Del Mar debut by 2 1/4 lengths driving clear. Earned a solid 87 Beyer with a final furlong clocked a shade faster than 12.80 to suggest he will improve when asked to go as far as his sire.

* E Z's Gentleman: Son of Yankee Gentleman trained by McAnally earned a Beyer of only 75 for his maiden victory in his second start and first at Del Mar on Aug. 19. But he finished his final quarter in a shade less than 25 seconds and galloped out strongly. One of the most promising juveniles to race at Del Mar this summer. My best guest is he has a graded stakes future.

* Overextended: Son of Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos was still a maiden after three starts, including an eye-catching third in the E Z's Gentleman's maiden win. Has shown speed, has rallied, has much potential.