03/13/2009 12:00AM

Right decision for Stardom Bound


PHOENIX - Old Fashioned, Pioneerof the Nile, Dunkirk, I Want Revenge, Friesan Fire, Quality Road, The Pamplemousse, Imperial Council, Hello Broadway, Desert Party, Giant Oak, Chocolate Candy, Theregoesjojo, Papa Clem, and Patena.

If those 15 were to race, 12 would finish off the board. Considering that kind of depth, why in the world, if you control the destiny of champion filly Stardom Bound, would you want to dive into that hornet's nest? Thus, the news earlier this week that she will instead point to the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland next month instead of chasing the boys comes as welcome indeed.

Don't get me wrong. I have written of this before and firmly believe she is the country's premier 3-year-old filly. Good as Rachel Alexandra and a few others are, she's the measuring stick. (Oh, and I don't want to hear about how she's only been on synthetic. That sure didn't hurt I Want Revenge, did it? She's by Tapit, a Grade 1 stakes winner on dirt, who's by Pulpit, a top-class dirt horse and dirt-horse producer. Does anyone really think she's not going to handle dirt?)

There are some who are concerned over her slim margin in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks. Well, they shouldn't be. After all, she still won. Despite going about 12 wide into the lane and despite shifting out in midstretch when another rival veered out into her, she kept on and got there. A champion finds a way to win, even when they don't have their 'A' game.

The margin of victory had nothing to do with her relative superiority. It had everything to do with the trip. When rider Mike Smith made his move to the outside on the far turn, his timing couldn't have been worse. At that same moment, a few other rivals swung out. But Smith had already committed to the outside move, so he kept going. The point is, however, that she had to work very hard.

It's the right move: go to the Ashland and then on to the Oaks for a summit with Rachel Alexandra. And that's a race worth waiting for.

The thrilla named Manila

America's greatest turf horse, Manila, died Feb. 28 in Turkey at the age of 26. With all due respect to Round Table, John Henry, Lure, Lemhi Gold, and a few others who were truly magnificent on grass, Manila is, at least in my mind, the barometer by which all other American grass horses are measured.

Ask 100 people what they thought was the greatest Breeders' Cup race, and I would imagine most would say Personal Ensign beating Winning Colors in the 1988 Distaff, or maybe Arazi's Juvenile tour de force, or the first Classic with Wild Again's upset, or the fourth Classic with Ferdinand just nipping Alysheba.

For me, it was the 1986 Breeders' Cup Turf. It's not just that Manila won. It's not just that he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, having encountered significant trouble in the lane. It was who he beat as much as how he did it on the Santa Anita turf course. It was to be the coronation of European superstar Dancing Brave, monstrous winner of the Arc. But the Southern California heat, a ship halfway around the world, a long campaign, and the power of Manila proved his undoing, as Dancing Brave ran fourth. While he failed that day, his legend remains secure in Europe as one of the greatest horses to race there in the past century. Don't forget, though, the next year's grass champion, and BC Turf winner, Theatrical, was second to Manila that day. Third was Estrapade, one of the absolute greatest turf mares ever. Not only did she dominate females, but she also whipped males in the Arlington Million earlier in the year.

That wasn't all of it. Dahar, a Grade 1 winner, ran fifth. Darara, Europe's reigning 3-year-old filly, came over for the race, too, and was vanquished, finishing eighth. To me, this remains the greatest collection of talent assembled for any Breeders' Cup race.

Manila's power was to be displayed the following year, but injury forced an abbreviated 1987. A tilt at the Arc was even planned, but alas, it would not come to pass. Just as a reminder to all, however, he did show up in the Arlington Million, which turned out to be his last start, and he romped. Among his victims that day was Theatrical, who ran third as part of a dazzling campaign that would see him win the BC Turf and be named champion grass horse.

Manila proved no slouch as a sire. He produced multiple Grade 1 turf winner Bien Bien and made a name for himself as a damsire, producing the mare Agathe, who has produced multiple Grade 1 or Group 1 winners such as Artiste Royal and Aquarelliste. The fact that he spent his final years in Turkey seems a shame. Surely in a day where our stamina sources seemed confined to the likes of A.P. Indy, Seeking the Gold, Dynaformer, and a handful of others, couldn't our horse population have used his infusion of stamina and class?

It took him being nominated 11 times before Manila finally earned inclusion to racing's Hall of Fame, which speaks more to a degree of lunacy on Hall election procedures than it does about him. It may have taken longer than it should have, but he's taken his proper place alongside the game's greatest. Right where we knew he belonged all the time.