10/19/2009 12:00AM

Jackson Bend makes case as top juvenile


NEW YORK - If you're talking about the best 2-year-old males so far in 2009, there are some names that absolutely have to come up, otherwise the discussion would have no merit. You could start with Lookin at Lucky, who at this point has beaten everyone led up to him in Southern California and has already won two Grade 1 races. D' Funnybone and Homeboykris must be mentioned because of their important stakes victories in New York. Noble's Promise has to be in the mix since he just beat a gate full of opponents in a big spot at Keeneland. And Jackson Bend must be included as well.

Jackson Who?

Jackson Bend just might be the best of the bunch.

Not everyone might be familiar with Jackson Bend. That's understandable because he has never run outside of Calder Race Course. Fair or not, Calder is not exactly a marquee track during the spring, summer, and early fall, with the exception of one day in July when Calder puts on the Summit of Speed. But if Jackson Bend wasn't on your radar before, you would best get a fix on him now.

Thanks to D' Funnybone, Jackson Bend was already at least in the consciousness of those who play the New York Racing Association circuit. D' Funnybone ran off with the Saratoga Special by 10 1/2 lengths in his first New York start and then came back to dominate the Futurity at Belmont Park. D' Funnybone was so impressive that folks took a closer look at him. When they did, it made them wonder how good Jackson Bend might be to have caught and passed D' Funnybone in the Frank Gomez Memorial before D' Funnybone came to New York.

Homeboykris also provided an endorsement on Jackson Bend's behalf. With victories in the first two legs of the Florida Stallion Stakes Series - the Dr. Fager and Affirmed - to go along with his score in the Gomez, Jackson Bend established himself as far and away the best 2-year-old male on the grounds at Calder. Homeboykris, meanwhile, emerged from Calder - where he won only a maiden race in slower time on the same day Jackson Bend won the Gomez - to take the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes.

Jackson Bend made his own case Saturday at Calder by completing a sweep of the Florida Stallion Series, winning the with a terrific performance. Jackson Bend stumbled badly leaving the gate, then rushed up into contention - perhaps prematurely - getting caught four wide on the first turn. He also was three to four wide on the far turn and then had an opponent make a huge run at him in midstretch. Despite it all, Jackson Bend still drew away to score by nearly three lengths. Moreover, he earned a 100 Beyer Speed Figure, the best two-turn Beyer by a 2-year-old so far this year.

Jackson Bend's connections said after the In Reality that it was unlikely their colt would go on to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Trainer Stanley Gold explained that he is not a fan of synthetic tracks and suggested that Jackson Bend would be at a disadvantage on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface against opponents who have synthetic-track experience. This position would be conceding any chance the horse might have at a divisional championship. But that's okay. After what he showed Saturday, Jackson Bend stands as good a chance as any horse bound for the Juvenile to be a serious 3-year-old next year.

Zenyatta's odds in BC Classic

An interesting nugget lost in the debate over whether champion mare Zenyatta should face males in the Breeders' Cup Classic or go the more conservative route and opt for the Ladies' Classic is: What price would Zenyatta be if she went in the real Classic?

I'm surprised how many people have told me Zenyatta would be the favorite if she ran against males, even if one or both of the Aidan O'Brien-trained pair of Rip Van Winkle and Mastercraftsman ran. I don't see it, especially if Rip Van Winkle starts. The only races Rip Van Winkle lost this year (and the same is true of Mastercraftsman) were races won by the mighty, and now retired, Sea the Stars. Rip Van Winkle was beaten only a length when second to Sea the Stars three starts back and has since won two Group 1 races. His form compares favorably, especially in terms of Racing Post Ratings, to the form Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator brought to the party last year, when they, of course, ran one-two in the Classic.

Anyway, I checked a few sites on the web, and came up with this: At Betfair, Rip Van Winkle was favored over Sea the Stars even before the latter was officially withdrawn, 2.60-1 to 2.75-1, but that's because many of Betfair's customers were anticipating Sea the Stars's retirement. Zenyatta is 6.5-1 at Betfair. At William Hill, Rip Van Winkle is 1.75-1 to Zenyatta's 5-1. At Ladbrokes, Rip Van Winkle is 3-2 and Zenyatta is 5-1. The big surprise with the European books is how big a price Mastercraftsman was with them, which I believe, instead of being an accurate reflection of his actual chances of winning, could be more of an indication that he won't be running in the Classic.

Over here, at the respected race book at Wynn Las Vegas, Sea the Stars was even money in the latest update, which came before his retirement, but Rip Van Winkle was 3-1 and Zenyatta was 5-1.