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Separating the juveniles
We are into the eighth month of 2009 and just beginning to see the best 2-year-old racehorses emerge at Saratoga and Del Mar. While much has changed about our game in recent years, these two popular summer racetracks remain the preferred forums for promising young Thoroughbreds to begin their careers and advance toward Grade 1 competition.
Not that all the top 2-year-olds wait till August to show their speed or potential.
The filly Dixie Chick, who earned a 100 Beyer Speed Figure winning a maiden race at Churchill Downs on June 13, earned a sky-high 103 Beyer winning the Schuylerville Stakes on opening day at Saratoga, July 29. Whether she carries such precocious speed out to a mile or more is open to question, but the undefeated Backtalk, who won the six-furlong Sanford the next day, has shown more distance potential than most early season stakes winners.
Although Backtalk's Beyers have not been earth-shattering, the son of Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones has shown an impressive late kick that suggests there is more to come when he stretches out.
The same probably is not true for previously unbeaten Smiling Tiger, who set the pace before finishing a tiring third in the 6 1/2-furlong Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar on Sunday, Aug. 9. As a son of Hold That Tiger, this speedball might not reach peak form until he tries abbreviated turf sprints.
Lookin at Lucky, who won the Best Pal for new Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, appears to have no such distance limitations. His sire, Smart Strike, already has given us two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, and Lookin at Lucky's strong, easy stride also suggests he will improve at longer distances.
Aside from the winners of graded stakes at Del Mar and Saratoga, there were nearly two dozen 2-year-olds who won or finished close in races at Del Mar, Saratoga, and a few other tracks during recent weeks and earned Beyers of 75 or higher. As I do each year, I've divided these promising 2-year-olds into categories that reflect their potential to be sprinters, middle-distance types, or potential stars at legitimate route distances. No doubt, there will be many more youngsters to classify by summer's end.
Precocious sprint types
Miss Heather Lee earned an 80 Beyer winning a 5 1/2-furlong $100,000 maiden claiming sprint at Del Mar on July 23 with a good midpack rally. As a daughter of speed influence Trippi, she's destined to be a sprint specialist.
Sterling Outlook, second in his third career start at Hollywood Park on July 11, earned a strong 89 Beyer winning his Del Mar debut on Aug 1. Most impressively, the son of Eurosilver finished his six furlongs in 1:09.79, with a final quarter in 24.44 seconds, as if he will be a graded stakes threat. Should handle seven furlongs; after that who knows?
City Trooper, a son of precocious City Zip, and Save Time for Me, a son of sprinter Hook and Ladder, were second and third to Come From Behind in a swiftly run five-furlong maiden dash for New York-breds at Saratoga on July 29.
Kinsey, fourth in her career debut at Churchill in June, won a five-furlong Saratoga maiden race on July 30 while fully extended with a good 86 Beyer. As a daughter of sprinter Delaware Township, her time is now and her distance potential is limited.
Hear Ye Hear Ye, a surprise 7 1/2-length winner in a six-furlong Calder sprint after four failures, earned a vastly improved 92 Beyer for his performance and will bear close observation when trainer Stanley Gold runs him back against winners. Bred strictly for sprints.
Awesome Son, a grandson son of speed influence Montbrook trained by Tim Kelly, improved dramatically in his second career start at Monmouth on Aug. 1, easily winning a five-furlong maiden race by 6 1/2 lengths with an 88 Beyer.
Phil's Prospect, winner of two races including the 5 1/2 furlong Tyro stakes at Monmouth on July 26, earned a 77 Beyer defeating weak competition. Will be hard pressed to handle better or longer.
Eightyfiveinafifty, a good third in an Aug. 1 maiden race at Saratoga won by Dublin, is a son of Forest Camp and would seem likely to prefer sprints, although a one-turn mile could be within his scope.
Tiny Woods, a son of Roman Ruler trained by Baffert, won his career debut at 5 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar on July 25 by outlasting two other sharp first-time starters - Sidney's Candy, son of Pacific Classic winner Candy Ride, and Samardo, son of middle-distance type Stormin Fever. The winner and second-place finisher earned 77 Beyers and the third finisher a 75. All are likely to improve later in the year at one mile or 1 1/16 miles.
Blind Luck, a maiden claiming winner June 21 at Calder, earned an 83 Beyer winning a starter allowance at Del Mar on July 29 with a strong last-to-first rally. By middle-distance type Pollard's Vision, she also galloped out well.
Wolf Tail earned a 76 Beyer winning the Graduation Stakes for Cal-breds at five furlongs on a relatively dead track July 29, making up seven lengths in the final furlong as if he will relish longer Cal-bred races.
At Saratoga, Westover Wildcat shipped in from Philadelphia Park to win a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race with speed to spare and an 83 Beyer. Trained by Anthony Dutrow, the son of Forest Wildcat should handle one-turn races up to one mile.
No Truth Be Told, second by two lengths in Westover Wildcat's maiden race after a dismal performance on the turf at Churchill Downs, has a chance to stretch out as he gains experience.
True distance potential
Other than Lookin at Lucky and possibly Backtalk, cited earlier, there have been few true distance types seen so far this summer.
Color of Courage, a stretch-running debut winner of a $50,000 maiden claiming race at 5 1/2 furlongs on July 23, earned a modest 77 Beyer for his effort. Yet, the son of Pacific Classic winner Came Home galloped out well and seems likely to improve when stretched out.
Tweebster, third in Sterling Outlook's highly rated maiden win, is by Tapit and is eligible to improve significantly for Baffert with more seasoning and distance.
At Emerald Downs, Forener, an unbeaten winner of a 5 1/2-furlong allowance on July 19 with an 82 Beyer, is bred to handle any surface or distance.
She Be Wild, a granddaughter of Breeders' Cup Classic winner Wild Again, was a most impressive winner of a seven-furlong $50,000 stakes on Arlington Million Day, Aug. 8, as if she will be a player in longer graded stakes for trainer Wayne Catalano.
At Saratoga, Come From Behind, winner of a five-furlong maiden race for New York-breds on July 29, showed game speed drawing clear late while earning an 85 Beyer. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott knows he has options beyond such abbreviated distances with the son of Roaring Fever out of a Mehmet mare.
Dublin, who earned a solid 90 Beyer winning an Aug. 1 maiden race at six furlongs with a final burst of speed for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, is by Preakness and Belmont stakes winner Afleet Alex and could turn out to be something special. Second-place finisher Hockley, who debuted at Arlington Park in a 4 1/2-furlong affair June 21, also shows promise.