08/31/2007 12:00AM

Ready's Image, Sales Tax clinch early

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With many 2-year-olds just getting their racing careers started, it's hard to imagine that divisional titles may already be nailed down. But in the Maryland-bred ranks, two 2-year-olds have stepped up with impressive records, and it will take challengers a lot of running to surpass them.

Ready's Image quickly became a graded stakes winner after back-to-back stakes wins in July in New York, and looks to add to his laurels in Monday's Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. The leader of the 2-year-old division nationally, Ready's Image romped home for his first stakes score in Belmont's Tremont Stakes (defeating the Maryland-bred Partner's Hero gelding Izzy Speaking), then followed with another daylight victory in the Grade 2 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga.

Ready's Image is owned by James Scatuorchio and trained by Todd Pletcher, who also sent out the colt's sire, More Than Ready, to win the same two stakes and go on to be a Grade 1-winning millionaire.

It was Ready's Image's resemblance to his sire that caught the attention of his connections at the Keeneland September yearling sale, where he was purchased for $410,000 from his breeder, David and JoAnn Hayden's Dark Hollow Farm. Ready's Image brought the highest price of the 68 More Than Ready yearlings sold in 2006.

Ready's Image won his maiden in impressive style at Keeneland in April, then was wheeled back less than two weeks later in the Grade 3 Kentucky Breeders' Cup Stakes at Churchill Downs, in which he finished third over a sloppy track. In four starts, he has earned $201,422.

The Haydens still own Ready's Image's dam, Clever Phrase (by Clever Trick), whose only other named foal is the stakes-placed runner Yingyingying. Clever Phrase's yearling colt by Two Punch will be readied for the Florida 2-year-old sales, and the mare is in foal to Malibu Moon.

The last Maryland-bred to win the Gradeo1 Hopeful was Maryland-bred champion Smoke Glacken in 1996. The next year, Smoke Glacken earned an Eclipse Award as the nation's top sprinter.

Sales Tax raises Snit's stock

William Backer's homebred 2-year-old filly Sales Tax, a daughter of High Yield out of the graded-stakes-winning mare Snit, also has two stakes wins, from a three-start career.

After a modest showing in her debut at Delaware Park on July 15 in which she finished fourth of nine, Sales Tax was shipped by trainer Hamilton Smith to Colonial Downs for the July 28 Tippett Stakes, a 5 1/2-furlong open turf race. At odds of nearly 20-1, Sales Tax drew off to win by two lengths over the Maryland-bred fillies My Little Josie and Valin Time.

Sales Tax traveled to Monmouth Park for her next start, the one-mile Junior Champion Stakes on Aug. 19, also on the turf. After stumbling at the start, she raced in mid-pack for six furlongs in the 10-horse field before hitting the front in the stretch and drawing off to win by two lengths.

Sales Tax is a third-generation homebred for Backer, who purchased her great-granddam, Queen Ribot (by Sir Ribot), as a yearling in 1972 for $9,500. Backer was rewarded when Queen Ribot became a stakes winner and placed in six stakes, two graded, earning $129,557. Queen Ribot then produced Princess Roberta as her first foal.

Princess Roberta, Sales Tax's granddam, won four stakes and was also graded-stakes-placed, although most of her best efforts came after Backer sold her privately for six figures as a 4-year-old following her first stakes win.

Backer bought back Princess Roberta as a broodmare in 1990, paying $24,000 for the 12-year-old mare in foal to Green Forest. The third foal Backer bred from Princess Roberta, Snit, would be her last.

Snit (by Fit to Fight) made 27 starts over four years, won 10 races, and earned $454,547. Her biggest score came in Philadelphia Park's Grade 2 Cotillion Handicap in 1997. Each of Snit's first three foals is a winner, including the current 3-year-old filly Bitter Lemon, who finished third in last year's Selima Stakes.

Snit has a Maryland-bred yearling colt by Not for Love and foaled a filly by Grand Slam while boarding in Kentucky this year.