07/17/2005 11:00PM

Light on racing, but not on talent

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DEL MAR, Calif. - The start of the Del Mar meeting on Wednesday marks the unofficial launch of the Breeders' Cup prep season.

Maiden races over the seven-week meeting will produce candidates for the Del Mar Debutante for fillies on Aug. 27 and the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 7 as well as other top stakes around the country in September, and, ultimately, the Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park on Oct. 29.

Even though it is only late July, there is little margin for error for a championship prospect. An illness or sore shins will derail even the best-laid plans.

"If you've got any Breeders' Cup aspirations, you need to be ready to rock and roll," trainer Eoin Harty said. "The hardest part is just getting the maiden win out of the way. After that, you'll find out if they're good enough."

Several highly promising 2-year-olds started during the Hollywood Park meeting, notably the colts What a Song and Bashert, who finished first and second in Saturday's Hollywood Juvenile Championship.

But many colts and fillies are just approaching their first start. Here is a glance at eight promising unraced juveniles, some of which could play a factor in the major races of the meeting - and beyond.

Air Ace: (colt by Forest Camp-Cope's Light, by Copelan)
Owner: Stetson Land and Cattle
Trainer: Bob Baffert

This colt is under consideration for a maiden special weight race over six furlongs on Sunday. A half-brother to the stakes winner Political Attack and Zillah the Hun, Air Ace has worked quickly at Santa Anita in recent weeks, including a bullet half-mile in 47.20 seconds from the gate on June 24. Baffert won the 1999 Del Mar Futurity with the colt's sire, Forest Camp.

A.P. Surprise: (filly by Pulpit-Half Queen, by Deputy Minister)
Owner: Wertheimer family
Trainer: Richard Mandella

This filly is a half-sister to Halfbridled, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2003. Halfbridled won her debut on the opening weekend of the Del Mar meeting and won the Del Mar Debutante.

Mandella has thought highly of A.P. Surprise since she arrived in the spring. He had hoped to start her at the Hollywood Park meeting until she encountered a minor injury.

"She jarred an ankle and we had to back off," he said. "She's about a month away."

A.P. Xcellent: (colt by Seattle Slew-Exing, by Exceller)
Owner: Stan Fulton
Trainer: Eoin Harty

Purchased for $750,000 as a yearling, this colt may debut in a sprint on Saturday, but his future lies in longer races.

"He's a nice horse, but he's very much a two-turn horse," Harty said.

This year, Harty is operating out of Santa Anita and is only shipping to Del Mar a few days in advance of a race.

Ivy League Genius: (filly by Beau Genius-Ivy Coast, by Fappiano)
Owner: Partnership
Trainer: Adam Kitchingman

A California-bred, she only recently arrived from Utah where she had a few workouts at a training center near Salt Lake City. Kitchingman considers her a candidate for statebred races in the fall and said she is likely to make her debut toward the end of the meeting.

King Sling: (colt by Unloosened-Am Tuned Up, by Tunerup)
Owner: Amerman Racing
Trainer: Mike Machowsky

Purchased for $280,000 at the April Ocala Breeders' Sales auction, this colt has been working regularly at Santa Anita since late May. At the sale, King Sling left Machowsky with the impression that he had bought a much sought-after prospect.

"All the sharp guys were on him," he said. "Hopefully we got lucky to outbid them all. When we saw him breeze, he looked like a racy-type colt."

King Sling is by a relatively unknown stallion by Unbridled who died last September.

Midnight Lute: (colt by Real Quiet-Candytuft, by Dehere)
Owner: Partnership
Trainer: Bob Baffert

Another who is under consideration for Sunday's maiden race, this colt is named for Lute Olsen, the basketball coach at the University of Arizona. Midnight Lute worked five furlongs in 58.80 seconds at Santa Anita on July 1, the fastest of the morning at the distance.

Baffert typically has one of the strongest 2-year-old divisions at Del Mar. He won the Futurity an unprecedented seven consecutive years from 1996-2002. Baffert declined to rank his unraced juveniles.

"I don't want to jinx my 2-year-olds," he said. "I've got some that will be coming pretty quick. I won't be in a rush.

Anything can go wrong. You get the mucus, the temperature, and the shins - the little things. There's no urgency. I'd like to get a start at Del Mar and then ship them out to different stakes. I'll probably have a lot at the end."

Old Thunder: (colt by Fusaichi Pegasus-Enjoy the Moment, Slew's Royalty)
Owner: Ilona Whetstone
Trainer: Ron McAnally

Bought for $200,000 as a yearling, he has a combination of stamina and speed in his pedigree. Fusaichi Pegasus won the 2000 Kentucky Derby. This colt's dam won the 1999 Rancho Bernardo Handicap at Del Mar.

McAnally, who does not focus on 2-year-old racing at Del Mar, said he is most impressed by the way Old Thunder works.

Tenga Cat: (colt by Storm Cat-Tenga, by Mr. Prospector)
Owner: Stan Fulton
Trainer: Eoin Harty

Purchased for $575,000 as a yearling, this colt is half-brother to Startac, the winner of the 2001 Secretariat Stakes. Harty said he is a sprint prospect who is not quite ready to run.

"He's a one-turn horse," he said. "He'll be ready in the middle of August."