08/03/2004 11:00PM

Plenty of action for figure watchers


LAS VEGAS - With only one wet week of Saratoga in the books, we've already seen some memorable speed-figure moments.

Baby Pletchers: It's certainly no surprise that trainer Todd Pletcher has run a bunch of 2-year-olds during the first week. The only surprise is that only one of those babies has crossed the line first. Proud Accolade didn't have a difficult trip and won his maiden with a wire-to-wire effort on a fairly speed-favoring surface, but his 93 Beyer was exceptional.

Other than Proud Accolade, Pletcher's babies have been plagued by seconditis. Out of eight 2-year-olds that Pletcher saddled during the first week, six finished second. Two of these runners - Tiffany Touch and Malheur - should have won, but were done in by very tough trips. Malheur ran a particularly remarkable race. On a sealed, muddy, speed-favoring track, Malheur broke nearly two lengths behind the field, made a strong move three and four wide on the turn, and closed powerfully. Under these extremely adverse conditions, his Beyer Figure of 82 was impressive. He could be a horse with a big future.

Other babies: All the buzz about Afleet Alex's powerful win in the Sanford (Beyer 101) is certainly justified. He overwhelmed the field with an explosive wide move and a freight-train finish. But I was equally impressed with a 2-year-old filly who won her maiden on Aug. 1. Sense of Style was allowed to settle early in the middle of the pack, made a move to get closer at the end of the backstretch, and then moved up again late on the turn. She challenged the front-running Pletcher filly Summer Raven at the top of the stretch, and then drew off impressively. She ran with the poise and power of a veteran racer, earning a 91 Beyer first time out, with multiple moves, at 6 1/2 furlongs. A very promising performance indeed.

Older Pletchers: We all know that Pletcher points for the Saratoga meeting - and not just with his 2-year-olds. Exaggerate This and Runningforpresident are all you need to remind you of this basic fact. Exaggerate This had earned an 88 Beyer at Hollywood Park in his most recent effort in mid-June. But in his first start at Saratoga, he was hung four wide on the first turn and had to duel the entire 1 1/8 miles on the outside. Despite the trouble, he only lost in the very late stages to Confirmed, who enjoyed a far better trip. Exaggerate This still managed to improve his Beyer Figure to a 91.

Runningforpresident made an even bigger jump. Back on July 4, after breaking slowly in his first race after a long layoff, he trailed the field and could only manage a Beyer of 55. At Saratoga on July 29, he turned that around with a vengeance. After breaking slowly again, he rushed up on the backstretch, chased the pace on the turn, and drew off to a smashing win. Despite the less-than-favorable trip, his Beyer improved to a 73.

Target Saratoga: Of course, Todd Pletcher is not the only one pointing for the Saratoga meeting. Everybody wants to win at the Spa. And they come from all over America to do it. Here are just two exceptional examples of this impulse driving out-of-towners to beat the big boys at this special showcase meeting:

* Top Shoter: In a July 31 race loaded with frantic speed types, this Finger Lakes-stabled speedball simply outran all the other front-runners and turned in a lifetime-best winning Beyer of 107.

* Cheetah Speed: Even more impressive than Top Shoter was the performance of Cheetah Speed on Aug. 1. He came into the race with consistently unassuming Beyer Figures on the dirt: 69, 76, and 70 in his most recent races, at Calder, Gulfstream, and the Ocala Training Center. But trainer Eddie Plesa was not discouraged, and shipped Cheetah Speed to Saratoga, worked him once, and dropped him down to a $35,000 claimer. He moved boldly around the field late on the turn, drew off through the stretch, and crushed his opposition to earn an astounding 92 Beyer.

Obviously, it's not only out-of-staters who are looking to make a splash at the Spa. It's also a chance for local trainers to grab some glory. My favorite first-week example - and there are a number to choose from - is 3-year-old filly High Peaks. She had been caught up in a fast pace on June 27 in her first race after a four-month layoff. Her career hadn't really amounted to very much, with her Beyers peaking in the upper-60's and very-low-70's. Then trainer Tom Bush entered her in the fifth race at Saratoga on July 31.

She faced a field full of confirmed front-runners. I thought she fit in with this mediocre group and might do okay if she settled back and tried to close and pick up all the battling speed horses. Instead, she rushed out to the lead, left all the other pacesetters gasping, and drew off to win easily. Her Beyer: an incredible 96 - quite an improvement from her 53 in late June.

And that's only week one.