10/07/2009 11:00PM

Phoenix's top two pose questions

Barbara D. Livingston
Capt. Candyman Can (left) enters the Phoenix off a DQ win over Vineyard Haven at Saratoga.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The handicapping variables in this modern age are seemingly endless.

Capt. Candyman Can is an up-and-coming 3-year-old with scarce experience on synthetic tracks. Fatal Bullet is a highly decorated 4-year-old with an 8-2-0 record from 10 starts on synthetics, including a runner-up finish in the 2008 Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Toss in horses who once ran a good second to Curlin (Past the Point), won the Super Derby and has consistently knocked heads with the division's elite (My Pal Charlie), and the defending race champion (Sing Baby Sing), and there's little doubt the 157th running of the Grade 3, $250,000 Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland is a difficult one to sort out. A field of 10 was entered in the six-furlong Polytrack race, a Win and You're In event that guarantees a spot in the BC Sprint at Santa Anita.

The most vexing questions surround the two favorites in the 10-horse Phoenix field. Capt. Candyman Can already has won four stakes, most recently the Grade 1 King's Bishop by disqualification, but his only race over Polytrack was a nondescript one last year - and Friday he will take on older horses for the first time to boot.

"I don't really have any ideas what to expect," said trainer Ian Wilkes. "He always brings his game, always tries. We're hoping he's good enough to run in the Breeders' Cup, which of course is over the Pro-Ride. We need to see where we are."

Conversely, Fatal Bullet has proven superior on synthetics. But the 4-year-old gelding has raced just twice since the Breeders' Cup last October, and although his comeback resulted in an easy win in an ungraded stakes in July at Woodbine, he followed it with a dismal last-place finish in the Grade 2 Vanderbilt on Aug. 9 at Saratoga, leading people to ask whether he's the same horse this year as last, when he was named Horse of the Year in Canada.

Javier Castellano has the mount on Capt. Candyman Can, while Eurico Rosa da Silva rides Fatal Bullet.

Fringe threats to the favorites include Past the Point, whose career peak remains his runner-up finish to Curlin in the 2008 Woodward Stakes, and My Pal Charlie, who will be adding blinkers after finishing a respectable fourth in the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga.

The Phoenix is the eighth of 10 races on the opening-day card.