05/10/2006 11:00PM

Filly from Mountaineer an Open Mind threat


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Two years ago, trainer Tom Amoss won the Open Mind Stakes at Churchill Downs with Anna Em, a speedball who had won her preceding start at Mountaineer Park in West Virginia by 11 1/2 lengths. Saturday, Amoss comes back to the Open Mind with another dominant Mountaineer winner, Bratt'sstablestar, and if the similarities with Anna Em are any indication, she might similarly post an upset victory.

As noted, Bratt'sstablestar has been prepped the same way Anna Em was prepped, by getting a confidence-building score against outclassed first-level allowance horses at Mountaineer. Just as important, she proved her quickness in winning that race, posting an 89 Beyer Speed Figure, the top last-race figure in the Open Mind field. In charge from the start, she shot to the lead, opened up an eight-length advantage midway on the turn, and coasted home 10 lengths in front without much urging from her rider, Dana Whitney.

Although she faced little in that race - the runner-up, Ocean's Away, had previously run seventh for a $15,000 tag at Turfway - Bratt'sstablestar has proven herself beyond her Mountaineer race. Racing last fall at Keeneland, she set a furious pace in her second career start and held on to finish third to the late Dance Daily, who won the Grade 2 Santa Ynez Stakes at Santa Anita over the winter before breaking down in the Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland last month.

How Bratt'sstablestar handles turf is unknown. Unlike Anna Em, who had the benefit of racing once on turf over the winter at Fair Grounds a couple of months before her Open Mind score, Bratt'sstablestar has yet to race on turf. Most signals, however, suggest she will perform well. Bratt'sstablestar is out of Gemaasheh, an Irish-bred mare, and is related to three grass winners who raced on turf in Europe. Offspring of her sire, Stormy Atlantic, have a win rate of a little less than 12 percent first time on turf.

As for Amoss, he has favorable stats with first-time turf horses. He is 4 for 17 with first-time turf runners at Churchill over the last five years (24 percent, $2.41 ROI), according to Daily Racing Form's Formulator Direct handicapping program.

Amoss often breezes his turf horses over the Churchill turf course, which seems to set them up for competitive efforts. Bratt'sstablestar has such a breeze, a five-furlong work over the local course in 1:02.20 on May 4.

It is uncertain whether the race will stay on turf. Heavy rain forced Thursday's scheduled turf races at Churchill to be moved to a sloppy main track, and more showers are in the forecast for the coming days. If the race is run on grass, it seems likely to be run over a wet course.

Let's not think Belmont just yet

In recent years, the Belmont, not the Preakness, has presented the toughest challenge for a Derby winner shooting for the Triple Crown. Since the mid 1990's, Derby winners Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide, and Smarty Jones were all successful in the Preakness before being upset in the Belmont.

I see the Preakness presenting the greatest challenge for Barbaro this year. The reason? The presence of Brother Derek and Sweetnorthersaint. Brother Derek finished in a dead heat for fourth in the Derby (with Jazil) and Sweetnorthersaint finished seventh, but if you consider their trips, they arguably ran the best of those who finished behind Barbaro, even better than Bluegrass Cat and Steppenwolfer, the second- and third-place finishers.

Brother Derek ran amazingly well in the Derby despite an extremely wide trip, and Sweetnorthernsaint showed an eye-catching move to blow past much of the field on the backstretch after a troubled start.

The Preakness might just turn out to be the most competitive race of the Triple Crown.

Asmussen dominant in debuts

Trainer Steve Asmussen, who is 8 for 16 with first-out juveniles in Kentucky this spring, has another one entered in race 2 on Saturday at Churchill, that being Sea the Joy.

What Asmussen has done with these young horses this year has been remarkable. They consistently outbreak the field and race professionally. He is bound to cool off sooner or later, if for no other reason than because his better 2-year-olds have already cleared the maiden condition. But somehow I get the impression that is later rather than sooner.