06/04/2003 11:00PM

'Iron' has a special look

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GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Iron Expectations, untested in two career starts, and Next Bandit, an impressive debut winner, will meet for the first time Saturday in the $142,930 colts and geldings division of the Texas Thoroughbred Association Sales Futurity.

The five-furlong race for 2-year-olds is one of two stakes on the card at Lone Star Park. The other is the $138,200 fillies division of the TTA Sales Futurity.

Before he ever even raced, Iron Expectations caught the attention of his trainer, Steve Asmussen, because of how much he looks like his sire, Valid Expectations.

Asmussen trained Valid Expectations, a Grade 3 winner, and said that in addition to looks, Iron Expectations shares his sire's intelligence. It's something Iron Expectations has shown in both of his starts. He has been responsive to his rider, and waited for the right time to launch his bid.

In his debut, Iron Expectations raced with the pace, but did not take over until asked at the top of the stretch. From there, he galloped home by 5 3/4 lengths in a maiden race, run April 24. One start later, Iron Expectations won a trial for the Sales Futurity in similar fashion, cruising home by 3 1/4 lengths in the fastest time of the night May 22.

Next Bandit made his debut during those same May 22 trials, and was prominent from the start in his race. In the stretch, he turned back a bid from one of his rivals before going on to a 2 1/4-length win under leading rider Eddie Martin Jr.

"They tested him pretty hard the other day, and he put them away and went on, and that shows pretty good character in a first-timer, to respond like that," said Bret Calhoun, who trains Next Bandit.

Birdie Barrage tops fillies division

Next Bandit races for Coast to Coast Racing Fund, which also owns Birdie Barrage, who could go favored in the fillies division of the Sales Futurity for her trainer, Cole Norman.

Birdie Barrage made her debut during trials for the race May 21, and won by 3 1/4 lengths. She was the fastest qualifier from three trials, covering five furlongs in the mud in 58.40 seconds. Norman said he is hopeful she will move forward Saturday.

Bluegrass Sara, who won her trial race May 21, appears to be one of the chief threats to Birdie Barrage. She is bred to be a contender in these types of races as a half-sister to Richbabe, who was a two-time stakes winner at 2.

Bluegrass Sara, a daughter of Tabasco Cat, is trained by Asmussen.