07/03/2007 11:00PM

One sprint star follows another

Jim Lisa
Smokey Stover is proving a worthy successor to Lost in the Fog.

MIAMI - For owner Harry Aleo and trainer Greg Gilchrist, Lost in the Fog was the type of horse who comes along once in a lifetime. Or so they thought.

But just two years after Lost in the Fog's Eclipse Award season and less than a year after the colt's untimely death from cancer, Aleo and Gilchrist find themselves atop the nation's sprint division again. This time, the horse is Smokey Stover, a 4-year-old son of Put It Back who goes for his fifth consecutive victory in Saturday's $500,000 Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder.

Unlike Lost in the Fog, who opened his career with 10 consecutive victories and gained popularity barnstorming the country during an almost surreal 3-year-old season, Smokey Stover lost four of his seven starts at 3 and remained relatively unknown outside the confines of his Northern California base. But since opening his 2007 campaign with an easy win at Golden Gate Fields, Smokey Stover has been unbeatable and risen to the No. 1-rated sprinter on Daily Racing Form's current Watchmaker Watch.

Smokey Stover's ascent began in late January after he dominated a field that included Proud Tower Too and Bordonaro in the Sunshine Millions Sprint. He continued with victories in the Grade 3 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Sprint and Santa Anita's Grade 2 Potrero Grande BC Handicap.

"If this horse had been stabled in a different part of the country, he probably would have developed a lot faster," Gilchrist said. "Unfortunately, we couldn't always get all the races to fill that we'd pointed him for, and it's tough on a horse when you have to keep training them up to a race, back off when they don't get to run, then start the process all over again. And while I knew all along he was a very good horse, he just didn't have the opportunity to show people how good he was right off the bat."

Although he won only three races at age 3, Smokey Stover never finished worse than second, and with a little racing luck might have achieved the early-career perfection that brought such instant notoriety to Lost in the Fog.

"He got what I would call a few suspect trips and could just as easily won as lost several of those races early in his career," Gilchrist said. "But the way things turned out, he really didn't define himself or start catching the public's attention until he defeated Proud Tower Too and Bordonaro in the Sunshine Millions. That's when he finally stepped up and started beating horses known to other people."

Gilchrist said Smokey Stover first caught his attention when Gilchrist watched tapes of the horse's breezes in preparation for the 2005 Timonium sale in Maryland.

"He worked well on video, and when we went to look at him his conformation was excellent," Gilchrist said. "He gave the appearance of being a very nice horse. Fortunately for us, he was by a sire like Put It Back and not by one of the more fashionable stallions. If that had been the case, he'd never have been in our price range and I wouldn't be training him now."

Gilchrist purchased Smokey Stover for Aleo at Timonium for what now seems like the bargain price of $140,000.

"That's how we make our living," Gilchrist said. "With these type of sires."

Smokey Stover will put his ranking in the sprint division on the line Saturday in the Smile Stakes when he takes on a strong field, including Fabulous Strike. Fabulous Strike is also among the hottest commodities in the division after coming out of relative obscurity to win his last four starts in sensational fashion.

"I'm never one who intentionally tries to go out and find where the toughest competition is," Gilchrist said. "But if you put up a half-million dollars for a sprint race in Fairbanks, Alaska, the good horses will show up. And for this time of year, I don't think you could get two better horses on paper or an overall field as good as this one will be on Saturday."

Gilchrist's ultimate goal with Smokey Stover, as it was two years ago with Lost in the Fog, is the Breeders' Cup.

"I knew after he won at Santa Anita that our plan would be to choose a path that would have him at his best during the final week of October," Gilchrist said. "And that meant not trying to run every single time the flag goes down. I chose the Smile for his next start because the timing was good, and the Summit of Speed has been good to us in the past."

Gilchrist won the 2005 Carry Back Stakes with Lost in the Fog and last year captured the Azalea with the 3-year-old filly Victorina.

It's inevitable that once Smokey Stover began to make a name for himself in the division, everybody would begin making comparisons with his former stablemate Lost in the Fog. But Gilchrist is quick to dismiss the subject.

"It's not fair to compare Smokey Stover or any other horse to Lost in the Fog," said Gilchrist. "Everybody knows what Lost in the Fog accomplished, although sadly we'll never know how good he truly might have been. I believe the best thing to do is simply judge each horse on their own merits and leave it at that."