08/30/2007 11:00PM

Euro invader looks solid in Del Mar Derby


PHOENIX - A look at the past, present and future.

* The Grade 2 Del Mar Derby, to be run Sunday, is often an inscrutable mix of Southern Californian turfers, Southern Californian dirt horses trying turf, East Coast raiders and, of course, the odd European or two. You have a similar mix this year but unlike past editions this one seems to have a standout.

The Irish-bred Stoneside, having run in Spain and France, appears to have these outclassed. That's because Stoneside got within three lengths of Lawman in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat in early July, and Lawman is one of the top three or four 3-year-olds in Europe. Stoneside just missed in the Group 3 Prix Paul de Moussac prior to the Jean Prat, and his connections thought enough of him in May to try the Group 1 French 2000 Guineas, even if that didn't work out so well.

He's come to the U.S. and to the care of Julio Canani, who is proven so adept with Europeans (Val Royal, Silic, Blackdoun, Tuzla, Martial Law, Noble and Nice). Stoneside has already been in the U.S. for a while and boasts a string of strong works at Del Mar to say he's acclimated, fit and feeling good.

* Sure, Street Sense had to work hard to win the Travers over Grasshopper. That's the way it's supposed to be. For all the bemoaning that Curlin, Any Given Saturday and Hard Spun were not there, Street Sense still did what he had to do, and instead of pooh-poohing his margin maybe we should be looking at Grasshopper as a potential big-time player in the division this fall.

* Now, I'm a big After Market fan, and he was successful in stretching out to the 1 3/8 miles of the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap. That being said, considering he didn't really power away from his rivals as he had in shorter races, doesn't the Breeders' Cup Mile make more sense as a goal now instead of the 1 1/2-mile Turf?

* You had to be enormously impressed with Hard Spun in the Grade 1 King's Bishop. Not only did he go fast early, but he looked beaten when First Defence came to him, yet re-rallied and was actually edging away late. But, speaking of goals, while he showed in his second in the Kentucky Derby that he can get the 10 furlongs of the Breeders' Cup Classic, he may be more effective going shorter. He could be the second coming of Precisionist, who while still able to win top races at 10 furlongs was simply monstrous from six to nine furlongs. I know Hard Spun's goal is the Classic, but I don't see how he gets beat if he goes in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile instead, even if Discreet Cat, Lava Man, Corinthian, Commentator and a bunch of other toughies show up. Oh, and Bobby Frankel may well have a budding miler-type star in First Defence as well.

* Great to see Wait a While come roaring back, and the power of her win vaults her back among the favorites for the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Royal Highness, the Beverly D. winner, isn't nominated to the race, Citronnade was shown vulnerable to either a disadvantageous pace scenario or softer ground, Lady of Venice may not want the trip, Honey Ryder ran miserably in the Beverly D. and may be better suited to going longer, Rutherienne is enormously talented but only 3, and Vacare and My Typhoon just got a good view of Wait a While's hind end. If Wait a While is back on her game she'll be awfully tough in the BC Filly and Mare Turf for Todd Pletcher. Of course, unbeaten Southern California star Nashoba's Key, a winner on turf and synthetics, is targeting this race as well and will surely have something to say.

* Speaking of Pletcher you have to be worried now about whether his star filly Rags to Riches can make the Breeders' Cup Distaff. She's had numerous setbacks and missed training, and we're less than two months from the big day at Monmouth. The question is, who's your alternative? Lady Joanne looked good winning the Alabama, but she isn't a powerhouse. Miss Shop can be big at times; less so other times. Pletcher's band of distaffers - Unbridled Belle, Indian Vale, India, Octave - are nice but aren't imposing. Nashoba's Key would be a threat in the Distaff if Rags to Riches doesn't run, but her first choice is the Filly and Mare Turf.

* Dream Rush vs. La Traviata vs. River's Prayer in the first Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint - can't wait. I just want to see the first quarter and see who makes the lead, much less who wins.

* The exploits of his strong first crop shout that Vindication is on his way to being the next great sire.