09/11/2009 12:00AM

Hall of Fame pair back in spotlight


PHOENIX - We learned a few things from the last week or so. Rachel was surely the cherry on top - but it was big cake.

* Reports of the demise of Hall of Famers D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert have been grossly exaggerated. Lukas finds himself in a position he frequented often the past couple decades - perched near the top of the juvenile division after posing for pictures with Dublin following the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga. The race may not have bowled over observers, but the strapping colt is developing and Mr. Lukas knows a thing or two about guiding a top 2-year-old's career.

Baffert's reemergence has come with all the bells and whistles. Oh, the silver-haired quipster never left the scene and actually moved back to prominence last year with two champions (Midshipman and Indian Blessing) and two Breeders' Cup winners (Midshipman and Midnight Lute). But at Del Mar he kicked in the door. Of Del Mar's nine Grade 1 races Baffert won five of them, including taking the Del Mar Futurity for an amazing ninth time with Lookin at Lucky. The son of Smart Strike (same sire as Horse of the Year Curlin and grass champion English Channel) has all the earmarks of a top horse, and like Lukas, Baffert has negotiated that tricky journey before quite nicely, thank you.

* The Baffert-trained Zensational is fast, real fast. And what may be even scarier to his prospective BC Sprint foes is that he may still be getting better. There is one issue, though. If he's going to sizzle in the BC Sprint, what's he going to do when confronted with Fatal Bullet, who is probably as quick early and who adores synthetics?

* Baffert's surprise winner of the Pacific Classic, Richard's Kid, shows the West Coast handicap ranks have a number of nice horses, but not really one who gets the pulse racing. And, if someone comes along who is peaking and gets the right trip (a la Richard's Kid) he can go from relative obscurity to the front of the line. The venerable Einstein, who shipped west in March to win the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, ran super again to just miss in the Pacific Classic, again showing the lack of power at the top of the West Coast handicap ranks.

Rail Trip, making his first start since winning the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup ran well, too, to be third. He's got quality, but if he's the top dog out West his grip on that position has to be considered tenuous. Colonel John, who many (including yours truly) expected to take hold of that position, was in a great spot, but then had to wait behind horses. Trouble is, when room finally did come in midstretch he didn't have the necessary burst and ran fifth. He remains one of the more perplexing horses in training - seemingly capable of huge things at times (winning Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, Grade 1 Travers, Wickerr in first turf try) and then other times lacking the oomph to move into prominence. Maybe the Grade 1 Goodwood at Oak Tree will tell us more. Maybe.

* Just a thought - how good would Zenyatta have looked in the Pacific Classic the way the race developed?

* Speaking of Zenyatta, no matter what she does, no matter how great she runs - even if she stays undefeated and beats the boys in the Breeders' Cup Classic - she cannot escape the shadow of Rachel Alexandra. You have to give all the credit in the world to Zenyatta's trainer, John Shirreffs, and her owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, for keeping her healthy and perfect, but she might now go down as underrated and underappreciated since she never took a swing at Rachel. She can't be Horse of the Year no matter how you do the math (unless she finds a way to track down and beat Rachel). It's sad that one of the game's greatest mares may end up as the second name on the marquee - and never got the chance to be first.

* One of the joys of summer is the emergence of new blood. The Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante confirmed Mi Sueno as top in the West, while Saratoga's Grade 1 Spinaway was another heady display by big winner Hot Dixie Chick, and a deceptively stellar second by Beautician (who has every right to run on and is a most attractive prospect for the BC Juvenile Fillies).

But we learned of another to watch. She Be Wild destroyed a nice group in the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Lassie. She broke slowly, was well back, but moved through between horses a la Rachel and blew the field away. Her trainer, Wayne Catalano, knows what it takes to win the BC Juvenile Fillies, having guided the fortunes of champion Dreaming of Anna in 2006.