09/11/2008 11:00PM

McLaughlin's impressive pair face off

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Girolamo and Charitable Man were two of the most impressive debut-winning 2-year-olds of the Saratoga meet, and Kiaran McLaughlin happens to be fortunate enough to train them both.

McLaughlin and the rest of us will get an idea which one is better when both run in Saturday's Grade 2, $250,000 Futurity at Belmont Park. The Futurity field includes a pair of debut winners from Larry Jones - Friesan Fire and High Mesa - as well as the Shug McGaughey-trained Gone Astray and Steve Asmussen-trained Kensei.

Girolamo, a son of A.P. Indy, overcame a slow break to rally four wide in the stretch and win by 3 1/4 lengths, running seven furlongs in 1:24.70 and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 86.

Six days earlier, Charitable Man took over soon after the start and extended his lead at every call, winning by 11 1/2 lengths in a time of 1:17.61 for 6o1/2 furlongs. He earned a Beyer Figure of 96.

McLaughlin said he could have run Charitable Man back in the Hopeful on Sept. 1, but thought the extra time would benefit both that horse and Girolamo.

"It's a shame we're running two top 2-year-olds against each other, but we're doing right by the horses and the owners," McLaughlin said. "It was tempting to run Charitable Man back in the Hopeful, but we thought it was better to wait and run with a little more time."

Alan Garcia rode both horses in their debuts, but will ride Charitable Man in the Futurity from post 7. According to McLaughlin, Garcia's decision was based on the fact that Girolamo, being owned by Darley, has a chance to spend the winter in Dubai, while Charitable Man will definitely remain in this country. John Velazquez rides Girolamo from post 6.

Trainer Shug McGaughey had a breakout season at Saratoga with his 2-year-olds, including Gone Astray, a son of Dixie Union, who won a six-furlong maiden race in his second start on Aug. 23. In that race, Gone Astray broke sharply, settled into sixth position down the backside, and then made a five-wide sweep around the turn into the stretch to win by 2 1/2 lengths under Garrett Gomez, who will be back to ride him Saturday from post 5.

"The thing I liked about his race was when [Gomez] asked him he got to his horses pretty quick," McGaughey said.

McGaughey hopes the experience of having two races will give Gone Astray an edge over Girolamo. McLaughlin believes Girolamo got plenty of experience in his debut.

"Girolamo had it all in one race - he broke slow, circled wide, and went ahead and won,'' McLaughlin said.

Like McLaughlin, Jones is forced to run two of his better juveniles against each other. Friesan Fire, another son of A.P. Indy, was sent to him by Vinery Farm and lived up to his 4-5 odds winning a six-furlong maiden race at Delaware Park by three lengths on Aug. 25.

"He came in highly touted, and highly prepared," Jones said. "This horse is very smart - he's as professional as a young horse can be."

Jones also sends out High Mesa, a debut winner at Delaware on July 13. Jones said he had been planning to run the horse back in a stakes at Delaware that didn't fill. Though High Mesa showed good speed in his debut, Jones believes "the stamina's in there."

Completing the field are Kensei, a debut winner from Steve Asmussen, and Flying Pegasus, 2 for 2 in his career. He is a son of Fusaichi Pegasus and Lilly Capote, who was a graded stakes winner as a 2-year-old.