10/08/2002 11:00PM

Meet Soto, a BC Juvenile sleeper


PHILADELPHIA - Is it possible one of the best 2-year-old in the country has yet to run in a stakes race? Yes. Is it possible that hardly anyone even knows the colt's name? Yes. Is it possible the colt may not get a chance to run in the Breeders' Cup? Yes.

Meet Soto. The colt has started just twice, once at Delaware Park, once at Pimlico.

He is not trained by D. Wayne Lukas (does Lukas still train 2-year-olds?) or anybody like him. In fact, Soto is trained by the anti-Lukas, the man you would least suspect would be so high on a 2-year-old that he wants a crack at all the stars in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Michael Dickinson trains Soto. He believes in Soto. He hopes there is a spot in the starting gate for Soto.

"I would understand if a horse that is a stakes-placed goes ahead of him,'' Dickinson said. "I would just hate to lose out to an allowance horse.''

At the moment, Soto is just an allowance horse. If you had seen his two races, you, like me, would suspect there is a lot more to him than allowance races.

I was minding my own business at Philadelphia Park on Sept. 7 when the third race at Delaware Park appeared on the TV screen. Mt. Carson, as he had been in his first start, was the odds-on favorite. That horse had been touted all over the mid-Atlantic before his first start. He got into a ton of trouble and finished second at 1-2. He was bet down to 3-5 in his second start.

Soto missed the break entirely, so I just assumed he was a slow horse who might get better with distance. He was so far behind the next-to-last horse on the backstretch that was off the television screen.

Meanwhile, Mt. Carson was taking control of the race. Soto appeared back on the screen when the field hit the turn. And when he started passing horses, I thought there was a chance he might get up for second. Suddenly, he was going so fast that second seemed assured.

But there was no way he was catching Mt. Carson, who wasn't slowing down on the lead. Soto, however, did not know I had written him off. He just kept coming. And then, nearing the wire, he rushed right by Mt. Carson, winning by a length and a quarter. Mt. Carson was 8 1/4 lengths clear of the third horse, a first-timer named Change Course.

Soto had run the six furlongs in 1:11.57. Who knew what that meant? In a few hours, you knew exactly what that meant. Five races after Soto's win, the great filly Xtra Heat ran six furlongs in 1:10.91.

So, Soto wasn't just visually dazzling. He was fast. He got an 89 Beyer.

"It was the wrong distance and he fell out of the gate,'' Dickinson said. "And he walked the first two furlongs.''

The last time I remember seeing a 2-year-old with that kind of move was nine years ago, when Dehere flew by a field at Monmouth Park. Soto's sire? Dehere.

Still, it was just a maiden race. It needed context.

Mt. Carson won his maiden by 6 1/4 lengths on Sept. 21 at Delaware Park. He got a 90 Beyer. Change Course won his maiden next out on Oct. 6 at Delaware Park. He won by 3 1/2 lengths and got a 76.

Soto appeared next in an allowance race at Pimlico on Sept. 25. The others were non-descript. Soto was taken behind and between horses in sort of an adventure ride. When he swung out for the stretch drive, the 1 1/16-mile race was over in an instant.

Coming home in a shade over six seconds for his final sixteenth, Soto won by six lengths. It looked easy. It was easy.

"Could be a good one,'' track announcer Dave Rodman said as Soto crossed the finish line. Soto got an 85 Beyer.

If the Juvenile is oversubscribed, there is a point system by which the top seven get in and then the Breeders' Cup panel selects the next seven. If you just look at the past performances, Soto probably would not get picked. If you watched the tapes, however, it would hard to miss him.