Updated on 09/18/2011 2:37AM

Discreet Cat deserves consideration


NEW YORK - Which should carry more weight in the minds of Eclipse Award voters when they sit down to decide the 2006 sprint championship: Two major Grade 1 victories in a three-week span at the quintessential sprint distance of six furlongs to cap a campaign that saw no other wins, or an undefeated season distinguished by pure, genuine brilliance capped by a major score around one turn, but at a one-mile distance many are reluctant to accept as a true sprint?

Most are already well aware that the first profile belongs to Thor's Echo, and the second to Discreet Cat. This is not to say that they are the only two legitimate candidates for this year's sprint title. Despite their losses early this month in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, Bordonaro and Henny Hughes are still viable candidates for their divisional championship, as there is recent precedent for horses to withstand losses in the Sprint and still win an Eclipse Award. But by virtue of their respective Grade 1 wins last Saturday in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park and the Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct, there is a strong possibility that Thor's Echo and Discreet Cat might have leapfrogged Bordonaro and Henny Hughes to become the top two contenders for the sprint title. Well, at least one of them might have.

Thor's Echo greatly improved his Eclipse Award prospects by winning the De Francis. If his 2006 season ended after his upset of the BC Sprint, it seems pretty safe to say that since the Sprint would have been his only win of the year, most voters would have looked elsewhere for their champion. But even if his win last weekend over a field that was nowhere near as good as the one he beat in the Breeders' Cup was much more workmanlike than impressive, it is to Thor's Echo's credit that he was able to run a representative race on such relatively short rest. And now, Thor's Echo is a much more palatable Eclipse Award candidate, even if his title credentials were forged only over a three-week period.

But the scenario involving Discreet Cat is much more intriguing. The question here is not whether Discreet Cat is talented enough to merit championship consideration. The fact is, there is an excellent chance he is the most talented horse to set foot on an American racetrack this year, and that takes in a lot of territory, from Invasor, to Bernardini, to Barbaro. And no offense to Thor's Echo, but it would be a tough task to find anyone who truly believes Discreet Cat isn't a vastly superior horse, at any distance.

The real issue is, does Discreet Cat's 2006 campaign really fall into the sprint category, even if all three of his U.S. starts this year were all around one turn? Does a horse like Discreet Cat, whose two stakes starts in this country this year were both at one mile, and who did not race under seven furlongs, really qualify as a sprinter?

Why not? In the Cigar Mile, Discreet Cat stepped six furlongs in 1:07.75 en route to completing a mile in 1:32.46, which equaled Easy Goer's 17-year-old track record. Admittedly, Aqueduct's main track Saturday was very fast, but if that isn't sprinting, what is? More importantly, there is recent precedent for the Cigar Mile to impact Eclipse Award voting in the sprint division. Just two years ago, a loss in the Cigar Mile cost Pico Central the sprint championship. If a loss in the Cigar Mile can cost a deserving horse like Pico Central a title, then why can't a brilliant victory in it like Discreet Cat's make him a prime title contender?

Maybe it's because there are some who say that if Discreet Cat's people really wanted the sprint championship, they should have run him in the BC Sprint, or against Thor's Echo in the De Francis. Sorry, but that's wrongheaded. Discreet Cat's people have never had any intention of turning this colt into a six-furlong horse. They are looking for bigger fish to fry. But just because Discreet Cat's profile for a sprint title is unconventional, and just because he lacks a race this year at the traditional sprint distance of six furlongs, it shouldn't make his credentials any less legitimate. Really. Did you see a better horse in this country this year race around one turn? Didn't think so.

As for those bigger plans for Discreet Cat, it was great to see trainer Saeed bin Suroor announce after the Cigar Mile his intentions of making Discreet Cat one of the best horses in the U.S. next year, as if this colt wasn't already. The potential battles next year in major American races between Discreet Cat and BC Classic winner Invasor, whose only career defeat was to Discreet Cat early this year in the UAE Derby, are really something to look forward to seeing. The only reason to keep a lid on one's enthusiasm here is that both Discreet Cat and Invasor are likely to target the Dubai World Cup. This is only natural, since Sheikh Mohammed owns Discreet Cat, and Sheikh Hamdan owns Invasor. But the list of American-based horses who competed in the World Cup and were never the same afterward is long (Brass Hat and Magna Graduate are two from just this year). This creates some concern for Invasor, as he will go about it like an American horse, what with preliminary plans calling for him to go to Dubai after competing in Gulfstream's Donn Handicap. But Discreet Cat will approach this like a Dubai-based horse. He is scheduled to return to Dubai next month. That schedule gives Discreet Cat a better chance to replicate his brilliant form on these shores next year.