Updated on 09/15/2011 12:37PM

Let the 2-year-old games begin


DEL MAR, Calif. - Eoin Harty worked for Bob Baffert for seven years, but even though he left his employ more than 1 1/2 years ago, they cannot stay out of each other's way, especially at Del Mar, where both trainers have deep, talented crops of 2-year-olds. They battled memorably here last year, with Baffert's Flame Thrower nosing out Harty's Street Cry in the Del Mar Futurity, and it appears they will be picking up right where they left off when the 43-day meeting opens Wednesday.

Both have a pair of colts in the day's third race, the first race of the meeting for 2-year-olds. Harty, who trains privately for Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Racing Inc., sends out Ibn Al Haitham and Sunray Spirit, a pair of first-time starters who have trained sharply for their debuts. Baffert counters with first-time starter Estatic, and Hezgotanothergear, who figures to improve following an educational run in his debut at Hollywood Park on July 1.

The race also attracted Historic Speech, a son of Pulpit making his first start for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, and Shingen Trick, who was second in his debut to the well-regarded Godolphin colt Sleeping Weapon at Hollywood Park on June 16.

This should be the first of many skirmishes between Baffert and Harty during the meet. Harty has 36 horses at Del Mar, each one a 2-year-old. "They're going to be packed in there like rats," Harty said. Baffert also has a full barn at Del Mar, and though he has older horses in addition to 2-year-olds, he has plenty of reserves in training at Santa Anita.

"It's going to be mano a mano," Harty said, laughing. "We've got to be ready to run opening day, because Baffert will be in there meaning business."

Baffert believes Harty "will be much tougher" this year than last, the first season Harty trained for Godolphin. That opinion could be ascribed to Baffert wanting to lower expectations, but there is strong supporting evidence.

Last year was Godolphin's first season of racing 2-year-olds in North America. Harty was hired following the 1999 Breeders' Cup. Because of his late start in Dubai that winter, his horses were further behind than desired. In addition, Godolphin had not purchased yearlings in 1999 with a 2000 American campaign at the forefront of their thinking.

All that has changed this time. Harty was part of the Godolphin team, headed by bloodstock agent John Ferguson, that purchased yearlings at the 2000 sales for racing in the United States this year. This crop got an earlier start training in Dubai, and came here in April much further ahead in their preparation. As a result, Harty won three races at the recently completed Hollywood Park meeting. He did not win any races at Hollywood last year.

"Last year was kind of a last-minute decision," Harty said. "We were behind from the word go."

Harty described this year's group as a "mixed bag" of horses who are "early 2-year-olds, classic types, and some I'd call hopeful, but we've yet to bear down on them."

Of those who have raced, the best is Sleeping Weapon, who skipped Sunday's Hollywood Juvenile Championship because of sore shins, but is expected to race in Del Mar's $150,000 Best Pal Stakes on Aug. 15. Others worth following from Harty's barn include the colts Dubai Touch and Moonlight Charmer, a son of Mr. Prospector who looked sharp in a breeze at Santa Anita last Friday. This weekend, Harty will start the Gone West filly Sweet Arizona, who is bred to be quick. Later-developing colts that Harty likes include Al Ash Hab, Night Prey, and Onfowaan.

"We have plenty in our arsenal," Harty said.

Baffert, asked if he had any colts who are as brilliant as Flame Thrower, immediately replied "Officer," the Bertrando colt who was an impressive debut winner at Hollywood Park. He could run in the $125,000 Graduation Stakes for California-breds on July 25, or await the Best Pal.

Among the colts Baffert believes will do well at Del Mar are Saturday's Hero, who will run this weekend, as well as Big Apple and Regiment. His best filly could be Newport Beach, who finished second in her debut at Hollywood Park.

"I've got a lot of 2-year-olds who will do well when they go two turns," Baffert said. The best of those, Baffert said, could be Acclaimed Honor, High Thunder, Pacific Colony, and True Monarch.

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