11/21/2006 12:00AM

Just how good is Discreet Cat?


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - While Discreet Cat has certainly been brilliant in the two races he has run in North America this year, they weren't the races Discreet Cat was supposed to display his brilliance. So as he nears his first Grade 1 test in Saturday's $300,000 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, there still remains the unanswered question of just how good is Discreet Cat?

"He could truly be a special horse; he hasn't proven that yet, but I think he could be something truly special," said Rick Mettee, the Godolphin assistant trainer who has been around Discreet Cat more than anyone.

Thus far, Discreet Cat has been good enough to win all five of his career starts by a combined 34 3/4 lengths and register eye-popping speed figures, including a trio of triple-digit Beyers. He was good enough to beat Invasor by seven lengths in the United Arab Emirates Derby in March before anyone knew that Invasor was good enough to become North America's likely Horse of the Year on the strength of four Grade 1 victories, including the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Discreet Cat, a son of Grade 1 winners Forestry and Pretty Discreet, was good enough in his only start as a 2-year-old to catch the attention of Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum, who is believed to have paid a middle seven-figure sum to buy the horse from trainer Stanley Hough and owner Joyce Robsham following his debut win at Saratoga in August 2005.

But Discreet Cat has never been tested. That's something Mettee said he believes will change Saturday when the 3-year-old colt meets graded stakes winners Badge of Silver, Silver Train, Sharp Humor, and Dixie Meister in the Cigar Mile.

Factoring in a two-pound break that 3-year-olds get from older horses this time of year, Mettee said that Discreet Cat "on scale, he's got 126 pounds, and he's never even competed in a Grade 1 and he's giving six pounds to the Met Mile and Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Silver Train. To spot him six pounds, he's got to be a pretty good horse to do that. At a mile I'm confident he can do it. I don't expect this to be any easy race with Silver Train and Badge of Silver in there."

If things had gone according to plan, Discreet Cat likely would not be running in the Cigar Mile. After Godolphin bought him in September 2005, there was talk of running in the Remsen. But the colt had been plagued by sore shins and the decision was made to stop on him. Discreet Cat went to Dubai in late December.

On March 9, Discreet Cat won the Areej Trophy - what Mettee likened to a first-level allowance race at Delaware Park - by four lengths. That set him up for the UAE Derby, which he won by six lengths, and had many thinking he was Godolphin's best chance at winning a Kentucky Derby after several failed attempts. But in mid-April, Sheikh Mohammed announced that Discreet Cat would skip the Triple Crown and be pointed to a summer campaign.

"One of our main concerns was that he was pretty light after [the UAE Derby]," Mettee said. "Even though we thought he'd run well, we didn't think he was quite seasoned enough from a physical standpoint. We were worried about how it would affect him through the rest of the season."

The plan became to run in the Dwyer at Belmont in July and then the Haskell or Jim Dandy. But in mid-June, Discreet Cat contracted a virus that kept him out of training for 2 1/2 weeks. Since Sheikh Mohammed also owned Preakness winner Bernardini, there was no need to rush Discreet Cat back, and he didn't run again until Aug. 25 at Saratoga, when he took a third-level allowance race by 11 lengths while running seven furlongs in 1:21.53 while under wraps.

"He was so visually impressive, he looked so well in the paddock and ran so well and he kind of took your breath away." Mettee said. "I was quite surprised considering the fitness level I thought I had him at. I thought he might hang a little bit down the lane. When I saw him make that move, certainly the bar was raised after that. Nothing happened in the Jerome to take that away."

In the Jerome, Discreet Cat rolled to a front-running 10 1/4-length score, running a mile in 1:36.46 and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 115. At that point, many wanted to see him run against Bernardini in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He was pre-entered for that race, but only as insurance in case something happened to Bernardini.

Mettee said that Discreet Cat is scheduled to ship to south Florida's Payson Park on Tuesday where he will do a month's quarantine before returning to Dubai in late December. He will be pointed to the Dubai World Cup on March 31 and, presumably, return to the U.S. for a 2007 campaign.

"Hopefully, we could knock out a campaign that culminates in the Breeders' Cup," Mettee said.