10/09/2002 11:00PM

A key long-distance test for Finality

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ELMONT, N.Y. - After knocking on the door several times, Finality had what trainer Todd Pletcher terms a break through performance in capturing the recent Jamaica Handicap at Belmont. The Jamaica victory confirmed that Finality, owned by Dogwood Stables, belongs with the in crowd. He runs in Saturday's $150,000 Lawrence Realization to answer the question: At what distance?

Finality, a big 3-year-old-colt by Dehere who was purchased as a yearling at Saratoga by Cot Campbell for $100,000, won his maiden on the grass at 2 and placed in several stakes. He returned to stakes company this summer, taking home part of the purse in the Lexington, the Hall of Fame, and the Saranac.

Despite his promise, Finality was mildly regarded at 9-1 in the Jamaica Handicap three weeks ago. Lurking just off a mild pace, he accelerated through the stretch to beat a nice field. Among those finishing behind Finality was Chiselling, whom Bobby Frankel sent to Arlington in August to win the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes.

"I thought it was an impressive performance," Pletcher said. "He showed improvement in every aspect and made us think we've got a prospect for next year. We're running in the Realization - as long as it's on the grass - at a mile and a half to give us some idea of where to concentrate for next season. Will he be able to cope with the major races, most of them at a mile and a half, or should we be thinking in terms of a mile and an eighth to a mile and a quarter?"

The 2002 campaign has been an incredible saga of triumph and tragedy for Pletcher. With stable earnings in excess of $7 million, he's among the top five trainers in the United States, a personal high. But the untimely deaths of Left Bank, the Whitney winner, and those promising young horses Freedom's Daughter and Warners, have affected him deeply.

"You feel so helpless," he said. "You want to do something to help but there is nothing that anyone can do. The loss of Left Bank was particularly meaningful because the racing world will miss his tremendous potential as a sire."

Calder's Festival a smash hit

Good racing is good business.

You have heard that before and it is as true as ever. In an effort to increase business at a time on the calendar when the local market is quiet, Calder Race Course in Miami developed the concept of a racing festival, on the order of a customized Breeders' Cup.

With the addition of some fan-friendly touches that have been well received, the Calder management has enjoyed considerable success.

Last fall, the Festival of the Sun attracted a crowd of more than 14,000, several thousand above the average Saturday attendance, and the program handled a then-record $8.8 million.

This season's festival, on Saturday, is expected to do as well, though there is powerful competition at hand as the University of Miami, the top- ranked college football team in the nation, plays host to Florida State, a major rival, in an Orange Bowl game that has been a sellout for months.

The Festival of the Sun consists of nine stakes with a value of $1.6 million, plus a program of entertainment that adds greatly to the enjoyment of the day. There is a horse fair with a colorful parade of breeds, there is a sports village for children with a carousel, pony rides, a trampoline, a rock wall, and a petting zoo.

Horses come from all parts of the country to participate in the Festival but it is the local stars that are most popular. Lawbook, for example, will be the center of attention as he bids for the $400,000 In Reality Stakes for 2-year-olds. Lawbook won the first two events in the series and will be favored to repeat.