09/09/2002 11:00PM

Hidden talent in Matron, Futurity

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LAS VEGAS - With the leading 2-year-old colts and fillies awaiting other races, this weekend's Futurity and Matron Stakes at Belmont Park are wide-open events that could produce some starters for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies.

Sky Mesa (Pulpit) and Vindication (Seattle Slew), considered the top 2-year-old colts in the country, are headed for prep races in the Breeders' Futurity and the Kentucky Cup Juvenile, respectively, while Awesome Humor (Distorted Humor), Miss Houdini (Belong to Me), and Santa Catarina (Unbridled), the leading 2-year-old fillies, just raced recently and are using other preps for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

The Futurity and Matron have had long and storied histories, and even though they are still prestigious races significant to breeders, the advent of the Breeders' Cup has relegated them to very rich prep races. In years past, the Futurity and Champagne Stakes, as well as the Matron and Frizette Stakes, were the goals of trainers with horses who had championship aspirations. That changed in 1984 with the first Breeders' Cup. Nevertheless, the Futurity and Matron continue to spotlight talented 2-year-olds who use the race as a springboard to future success.

Since 1985, Ogygian, Gulch, Forty Niner, Eastern Echo, Holy Bull, Montreal Red, Maria's Mon, Grand Slam, and Lemon Drop Kid have won the Futurity, while Tappiano, Stella Madrid, Meadow Star, Sky Beauty, Flanders, Golden Attraction, Sharp Cat, Beautiful Pleasure, and Raging Fever have won editions of the Matron.

Wide-open Futurity

Whywhywhy has been pointed toward the Futurity by trainer Patrick Biancone since victories in the Sanford and Flash Stakes, and he just may be the goods. Whywhywhy is by Mr. Greeley (Gone West), who got off to a slow start at stud but is making up for it in a big way this year. Known as a superior sprinter, Mr. Greeley has offspring who are enjoying victories at middle distances (for example, Nonsuch Bay) and have been especially successful on grass. Whywhywhy descends from a legendary King Ranch female family that produced a Triple Crown winner, Assault. Whywhywhy's third dam, Equal Change (Arts and Letters), was a talented filly who unfortunately came along the same year as the immortal Ruffian. Equal Change ran a gallant second to Ruffian in the 1975 Coaching Club American Oaks.

Truckle Feature also bears serious consideration. While Whywhywhy comes from a famous King Ranch family, Truckle Feature comes from an equally illustrious Calumet female family. By speed influence Saint Ballado, Truckle Feature has a second dam who is a half-sister to champion Davona Dale, and his third dam is a half-sister to Sun Gate, the dam of Preakness winner Gate Dancer.

Others confirmed for the Futurity are Atfirstblush, Blakelock, Cape Good Hope, Silver Squire, Stormy Cadet, and Valid Video.

Atfirstblush, by miler Rubiano, comes from the classy family of a multiple group 1 winner and French champion Monade, whose other descendants include Too Chic, the dam of Chic Shirine and Queena.

Cape Good Hope is from the first crop of Cape Town (Seeking the Gold) and his second dam, Share the Fantasy, won the 1982 Spinaway Stakes. This female family has been quite active this year. Cape Good Hope's dam, Share the Fun, is a half-sister to the dam of Lismore Knight, who won last weekend's Summer Stakes at Woodbine.

Late-bloomers in Matron

This year's Matron is coming up very light, with only six possible starters. Wild Snitch (Forest Wildcat) won the Sorority Stakes, but her pedigree is geared for sprints, and one mile may be her limit. Wild Snitch could win the Matron, but the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, at 1 1/8 miles, seems well beyond her scope.

Fircroft (A.P. Indy) has unlimited potential, and may be best at 3. By a versatile stallion whose runners usually improve with age and maturity, she is out of a Deputy Minister mare who is a half-sister to successful young sire, Storm Creek.

Runaway Chanel (Runaway Groom out of a Northern Baby mare) should appreciate one mile and beyond, but has a pedigree better suited to turf.

Stellar, from the first crop of Grand Slam, showed promise at Saratoga, and as a half-sister to prominent Breeders' Cup Sprint candidate Gygistar has the credentials to become a stakes winner, but the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at 1 1/8 miles is a reach.

Harford Ghost is by speed influence Silver Ghost, and while her first three dams have not produced anything of note, her fourth dam, stakes winner Mellow Marsh, is a half-sister to Exclusive Dancer, who was a prominent broodmare. American Chance, Chief Honcho, General Assembly, Versailles Treaty, Out of Place, Gold Fever, Saarland, and Exclusive Native all descend from Exclusive Dancer. Runners by Silver Ghost are best up to 1 1/16 miles.

And then there is the royally bred Storm Flag Flying. By Storm Cat out of a Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner My Flag (Easy Goer), Storm Flag Flying won her debut at Saratoga despite racing greenly, and like her dam, who developed quickly at 2, could be a factor in late-season stakes. My Flag also won the Coaching Club American Oaks and finished third in the Belmont Stakes. My Flag's dam is undefeated champion Personal Ensign. If Storm Flag Flying develops quickly, she would be an ideal candidate to win the Juvenile Fillies at 1 1/8 miles.

With division leaders skipping the Futurity and Matron, it creates a golden opportunity for these late-maturing juveniles.