07/20/2003 11:00PM

A Lukas tradition continues


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Nothing produces a feeling of well-being more than the arrival on the scene of a promising 2-year-old in conjunction with the opening of Saratoga. Men have been racing outstanding young horses at this glorious Spa for more than a century. No matter the frequency, talented prospects produce a special excitement here, as Wayne Lukas was saying the other day.

Lukas's record with 2-year-olds at Saratoga is quite remarkable. There are six major stakes for juveniles during the meeting, and he has won them a total of 29 times. He hopes to make it 30 Wednesday when he saddles Be Gentle for the $150,000 Schuylerville at six furlongs.

Lukas has sent out five winners of the Schuylerville, including Golden Attraction, Sacahuista, and Wonder's Delight. He feels Be Gentle could prove as good as any young filly he has trained in a long time. She has run twice, winning a maiden race impressively at Churchill Downs and then capturing the Debutante Stakes with a nice display of the speed she inherited from her rapid sire, Tale of the Cat.

Tale of the Cat, a Storm Cat stallion, liked the Saratoga racing surface as much as any. He won the King's Bishop here and was second in the Whitney. He's off to a good start as a sire and may have a real runner in Be Gentle.

"She's answered all our questions so far," Lukas said, "and with a flourish. She's a gorgeous individual with a great neck and hip and she gives the impression she is special."

Owner Thomas VanMeter II, a partner in the Eaton Sales Company, purchased Be Gentle privately and entered her in the Fasig-Tipton February sale of 2-year-olds. The top bid of $220,000 failed to meet her reserve and VanMeter decided to race her himself. So far his judgment looks good.

Frankel develops star filly

Bobby Frankel's judgment with Spoken Fur also looks good. She came to him recently as the winner of a couple of allowance races and he saw enough to try her in Grade 1 company. She won the nine-furlong Mother Goose nicely and Frankel decided to give her a chance in last weekend's $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks, the second leg of New york's filly triple crown series, though the distance was a testing 1 1/2 miles.

She came through with high marks under an outstanding ride by Jerry Bailey, accelerating to the lead near the quarter pole. In a twinkling she was eight lengths clear. Bailey permitted a whittling down of the margin to 3 1/2 lengths but there was no question who was pounds the best.

"She was very good in the paddock on Saturday," Frankel said. "She has improved steadily and will try to sweep the series in the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga. That should be a tougher race than the Mother Goose or the CCA Oaks."

If she wins the Alabama, a $750,000 race, Spoken Fur will also earn a $2 million bonus. She put a golden touch on Frankel's Belmont meeting, during which he saddled the winners of six Grade 1 races.