02/04/2009 12:00AM

Saucey Evening takes shot at crown


ARCADIA, Calif. - There is no truth to the rumor that the IEAH Stable silks will be replaced by a big, black bull's-eye on Saturday at Santa Anita when they are carried for the first time by champion filly Stardom Bound in the Las Virgenes Stakes. But you get the idea.

Growing whiter by the day, Stardom Bound sticks out in the crowd anyway, a latter-day version of the West Coast star Vigors, who roared through the 1978 Santa Anita meet trailing his long tail like smoke from an F-16. His spectacular, stretch-running victories in the San Marcos, Santa Antonio, and Santa Anita handicaps set a crowd-pleasing standard that remains unequaled.

Vigors was named for the renowned World War II flying ace Tim Vigors (11 confirmed kills of German fighters and six probables during the Battle of Britain) who later established Coolmore Stud. That wasn't good enough for American PR types and headline writers, though. For purposes of modern consumption, Vigors the racehorse became the Great White Hope, or the White Tornado. Darrell McHargue, his jockey, liked to call him "my white Corvette," with good reason. He drove one at the time and called it "my other white Corvette."

It is only a happy coincidence that the dam of Stardom Bound is My White Corvette, a daughter of Tarr Road, who is by Grey Dawn II, the 2-year-old French champion of 1964. The American record keepers of the time added the "II" when Grey Dawn showed up in the U.S. (and won the Brandywine Handicap) when there was already a "Grey Dawn" in the database, although of considerably lesser note. As a successful stallion, Grey Dawn's finest daughter was 1980 champion 2-year-old filly Heavenly Cause. His best son was Vigors.

So other than their attachment to Santa Anita, their running styles, their color, their shared DNA, and their passing association with a damn fine automobile, Stardom Bound and Vigors have nothing at all in common. Matters not anyway. The issue is the beast before us, as she emerges into her 3-year-old maturity, and whether she can be beaten, or even challenged, by any of the fillies entered against her on Saturday.

One of them is Saucey Evening, a caramel colored daughter of More Than Ready who has already earned a championship of her own. So what if we're talking California champion 2-year-old filly of 2008? It's a big state. And she was clearly the best, with wins last year in the Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies and the fillies division of the California Breeders' Champion Stakes.

The fact that Saucey Evening is owned by George Strawbridge and trained by Graham Motion - both associated more with Chesapeake's bay than San Francisco's - should not be held against her. They took advantage of her Cal-bred status to the max, and now they feel it is time to take on a challenge like the Las Virgenes.

"The one time we ran against Stardom Bound we didn't have the best of trips," Motion said Wednesday, referring to the Del Mar Debutante. "I'm certainly not suggesting we would have beaten her. But we would have been a little closer."

Stardom Bound was a maiden on the day she won the Del Mar Debutante, and nothing has gotten very close to her since. Saucey Evening avoided a confrontation at the Breeders' Cup, running in the turf race for 2-year-old fillies instead, and ran well enough to finish fourth, beaten two lengths. Saucey Evening was just a length behind subsequent Hollywood Starlet Stakes winner Laragh.

"At that point she'd been going pretty good all year, so we were going to give her a little break after the Breeders' Cup no matter how things looked for the Hollywood race," Motion noted.

While she trains and campaigns in California for extended stretches of time, Saucey Evening is under the daily supervision of Alice Clapham, Motion's traveling assistant and sister of British Olympic equestrian Tiny Clapham. Motion has made periodic trips west from his headquarters at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. So far, he likes what he sees of the 3-year-old Saucey Evening.

"Sometimes you have your suspicions that they might just be precocious 2-year-olds," Motion said. "With this filly I really didn't know, except for the fact that every time we ran her she seemed to improve. I get the advantage of not seeing her every day, so when you don't see a horse for a couple of weeks you notice the changes more. I've genuinely noticed how much she's grown up in the last couple of months."

The Cal Breeders' Champion Stakes on Dec. 27 was Saucey Evening's first race since the Breeders' Cup. She won by an easy 2 1/2 lengths, going seven furlongs. The Las Virgenes is a flat mile.

"After she came back so well in that race at Christmastime, this one seems like a natural progression," Motion said.

Except for the fact that Stardom Bound stands in the way.

"It's a big challenge," Motion conceded. "But if ever there's a time to take her on it's probably in that first race back."