10/06/2004 11:00PM

Maiden legit contender in Futurity

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Owner Will Farish of Lane's End Farm is typically as conservative with his horses as he is in politics. So it is somewhat out of character to see Farish, the U. S. ambassador to England appointed by President George W. Bush, running Patriot Act, a colt winless in two starts, in Saturday's Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland.

It is not the way that Farish and trainer Neil Howard tend to place their runners. Usually they give a horse a steady progression of winning preps, eventually trying a stakes race after the animal has cleared most of its allowance conditions. Mineshaft, the 2003 Horse of the Year owned by Farish and trained by Howard, was managed this way once he arrived in America, winning two allowance races before being tested in an ungraded stakes race.

Running Patriot Act in the $500,000 Breeders' Futurity may not be conservative, but it is sound economics. If he runs third, he would earn more than winning a maiden race at Keeneland. And if he wins - well, then Lane's End, which happens to be the race sponsor, has the honor of presenting a trophy to a horse bred, raised, and owned by the farm.

Patriot Act is not lacking the necessary experience. Although each of the last three winners of this race - Eurosilver, Sky Mesa, and Siphonic - had already won prior to the Breeders' Futurity, they came into the race with two or fewer starts apiece.

A son of A.P. Indy and a half-brother to graded stakes winner Class Kris, Patriot Act ran well in both starts. Following a close third-place finish in his debut at Saratoga, he made an eye-catching five-wide move in finishing a close second at Belmont Park behind Sun King, a Charismatic colt who is running in Saturday's Champagne at Belmont.

Finishing more than 10 lengths in front of third-place finisher Datsyuk, Patriot Act earned a 93 Beyer Speed Figure, 1 point off the winning figure of Sun King. In terms of Beyers, it was the fastest race for 2-year-olds of the current Belmont fall meet.

Beyers in that range have pointed to the winners of this race over the last 10 years. The last nine winners all had run Beyers of 89 or higher before racing in the Breeders' Futurity. No other entrant in the Breeders' Futurity besides Patriot Act has cracked an 89 Beyer. Only Consolidator has run within a couple points of that mark.

There is precedent for maidens winning prestigious stakes races. Pleasant Stage won the Oak Leaf as a maiden in 1991 and used that race to set her up for a victory and a championship by winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies later that year. In a more recent example, the maiden Brass Hat won the Rushaway Stakes at 38-1 odds at Turfway Park earlier this year.

Patriot Act won't be that price - he will be among the favorites. But hopefully the fact that he is a maiden will allow him to start a tick or two higher than if had he been an established winner.

Key race points out Sweet Return

The Breeders' Futurity is one of three stakes on Keeneland's 10-race Saturday card - the others being the Sycamore Breeders' Cup and the Shadwell Turf Mile. Both are good grass races, although the Shadwell is the better wagering race.

Even following a layoff dating back to December, Denon looms a short-priced standout in the Sycamore on class, being a Grade 1 winner. He is also proven fresh for Bobby Frankel, a skilled layoff trainer.

The Shadwell Turf Mile appears far more competitive. Perfect Soul, the defending champion, is in the race, as are Nothing to Lose and Silver Tree, the one-two finishers from the Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga Aug. 28.

My choice is Sweet Return. He is one of three Grade 1 winners in the field - the others being Honor in War and Perfect Soul. What separates him from those two, however, is his consistency over the past year.

Since October 2003, he has raced exclusively in Grade 2 and Grade 1 contests, winning 3 of 8 races, finishing second in two others, and third in one more race. His only unplaced efforts over that stretch came when fifth in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile and eighth in the Grade 1 Arlington Million in his last start Aug. 14.

With that eighth-place finish in the Million clouding his form, he may get overlooked - a potential mistake by the public. The Million is such a deep and talent-laden race that also-rans from it tend to rebound in subsequent starts. Ten horses have run back out of the Million this year, with four winning.

Sweet Return is also reunited with jockey Gary Stevens, who rode him to a pair of graded stakes victories over the winter.