12/17/2007 12:00AM

Likely champs may be eclipsed

EmailNEW YORK - Indian Blessing and War Pass certainly have bulletproof Eclipse Award credentials for this year's 2-year-old championships. Both went undefeated this year, both were clear at the finish in every one of their victories, and both left no doubt as to their superiority in their respective Breeders' Cup events, the races that by far mean the most in their respective divisions.

At the same time, it's interesting how there are a fair number of folks who are skeptical about Indian Blessing and War Pass's chances to be as dominant next year at 3 in the major, longer races that 2-year-old champions are expected to shoot for.

In Indian Blessing's case, it is obvious where the skepticism stems from. Although she won the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes by 4 1/2 lengths, and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies by 3 1/2 lengths, Indian Blessing came home slowly in both races. She required 27.24 seconds to complete the final quarter-mile of the one-mile Frizette, which was run over a track that was kind to speed horses such as her. In fairness, Indian Blessing did force very fast early fractions in the Frizette. But that was not the case in the Breeders' Cup, when she set a pace significantly slower than the one War Pass carved out in the very next race, and yet she still walked home. Indian Blessing went the fourth quarter in the Juvenile Fillies in 27.11, and went the last sixteenth of a mile in 7.01 seconds, making for a final five-sixteenths of a mile in a pedestrian 34.12 seconds.

Who knows? Indian Blessing might well be a Lady's Secret type who bottoms out the opposition early, leaving them incapable of mounting an effective rally no matter how quickly, or slowly, she comes home. But the fact that Indian Blessing finished slowly in her two big stakes wins is why people are looking for next year's 3-year-old fillies who figure to be strong at the end of races no shorter than 1 1/8 miles, which is where the real prestige lies. And after Saturday's Hollywood Starlet at Hollywood Park, there is no doubt that search begins with Country Star.

Country Star could not have been more impressive winning the Hollywood Starlet by nearly three strong lengths after racing wide. She seemed to operate on a much higher level than she did in her previous start, when she recorded her maiden win in the Grade 1 Alcibiades in early October. Her jockey, Rafael Bejarano, made certain to note this in his postrace comments. He also proclaimed that Country Star would be the next Kentucky Derby winner.

We'll see about that. But one thing that does seem abundantly clear is that Country Star is going to be even more effective as race distances increase. Everything about her shouts that, from her rating ability and explosive closing kick to her pedigree. Aside from being out of Grade 1 Ashland winner Rings a Chime, Country Star is by Empire Maker, winner of the 2003 Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, and most importantly, Belmont Stakes. It should be noted that Empire Maker is also the sire of Mushka, whose overwhelming score in last month's Demoiselle Stakes established her as a top distance candidate next year at 3.

As for War Pass, the cause for skepticism over his prospects in major distance events next year probably stems from the fact that he is by Cherokee Run, whose greatest success by far came sprinting, and who was, in fact, champion sprinter in 1994. Of course, it should be pointed out that there were similar concerns in recent years with Funny Cide and Smarty Jones. Before Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2003, there were questions about his distance abilities because he was by sprinter/miler Distorted Humor. It wasn't until after Funny Cide that Distorted Humor's ability to sire true distance performers was recognized. And before Smarty Jones won the first two legs of the 2004 Triple Crown, people wondered if he could get a distance against top company since he was by sprinter/miler Elusive Quality.

In any event, folks are also looking for top-notch males who will be at their best going a distance next year at 3, and that search continues Saturday at Hollywood Park in the CashCall Futurity. Right now, as many as 13 may contest the CashCall, and there are at least four in the race who could prove to be significant players next year: Massive Drama, Into Mischief, Colonel John, and Slew's Tiznow.

Massive Drama is by Cherokee Run's son Kafwain, which means he will have some distance issues to address before too long. But Massive Drama looked really good winning last month's Hollywood Prevue to remain undefeated. Into Mischief was also making only the second start of his career in the Hollywood Prevue, and it looked like he was going to pass Massive Drama in the stretch before being turned back. Being a son of Harlan's Holiday, however, Into Mischief has a license to move forward going longer.

Colonel John and Slew's Tiznow are both sons of dual Breeders' Cup Classic winner Tiznow, so distance should be their games. Slew's Tiznow showed some quality to finish second in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity off his maiden win. And as for Colonel John, it's true that he got a good trip when he won last month's Real Quiet Stakes, and his final time wasn't special. But he still impressed with the way he pulled away late in his first go around two turns.