07/04/2007 11:00PM

Several fresh faces worth watching


NEW YORK - The cards at Belmont Park last weekend and on Wednesday featured a number of important performances that that will resonate through Saratoga and beyond.

It wasn't the week's two Grade 1 races that produced the most inspiring results. Octave's half-length victory over Lady Joanne in the Mother Goose last Saturday was a workmanlike triumph by a 3-5 favorite in a four-horse field. She deserved a Grade 1 of her own after finishing second in both of her generation's biggest races to date, last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and the Kentucky Oaks, but she's a cut below Rags to Riches and not getting any closer.

Political Force's victory in the Grade 1 Suburban on the same card was similarly uninspiring. He was struggling the final furlong but his opponents wanted 10 furlongs even less than he did, and the outcome left you wondering only whether Invasor would have won the race by a city block or a country mile.

Earlier on the Saturday card, however, a pair of 2-year-olds made highly promising debuts in the same maiden race. Fed Watcher, a $50,000 Songandaprayer 2-year-old trained by Rick Violette, led all the way to win in a sparkling 56.10 seconds for five furlongs, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 98. Bearing down on him late after racing greenly early was The Leopard, who sold for $2.5 million in February. Both colts figure to be prominent at Saratoga.

The Leopard was one the weekend's few losers for Todd Pletcher, who saddled Octave and both of Sunday's stakes winners, Glacken's Gal in the Astoria and Ready's Image in the Tremont. Glacken's Gal, a New York-bred Smoke Glacken filly, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs in a respectable 1:03.85 but enjoyed all the luck as favored Dubit was bottled up at the rail through the stretch.

Ready's Image gave no one else a chance. The $410,000 More Than Ready colt proved his third as the 7-5 favorite in the Kentucky Jockey Club last time out was a function of the slop, rebounding to win by 7 3/4 lengths in 1:02.86. That was good for a Beyer of 99, the best by a juvenile male in North America this year. That figure, as well as those posted by Fed Watcher (98) and The Leopard (93) the day before, are above par for this time of year and good enough to win the upcoming graded stakes at Saratoga.

The Sunday card also featured the first stakes start for Lear's Princess, an unbeaten 3-year-old filly who won her debut at Keeneland in April in the race where the first two riders both misjudged the finish line. Switched to grass next time out, Lear Princess rallied from last against the grain of Belmont's inner turf course to win a first-level allowance, and did the exact same thing Sunday to win the overnight Tweedside Stakes on grass. She has an exhilarating final quarter in her and looks capable of becoming an important turf filly.

The week's two fastest and perhaps most important performances came on the Independence Day card. High Finance came into the Grade 2 Tom Fool with an 0-for-6 record in stakes races despite a couple of brilliant allowance performances - a six-furlong triumph on the Travers undercard in the same time as Henny Hughes's King's Bishop, and a romp at a mile last month that earned a stratospheric 115 Beyer. In the Tom Fool, he earned his black type and his stripes as an important sprinter, racing just off Commentator's wicked opening half-mile of 43.99 seconds yet still drawing clear to win in a fine 1:21.81 that translated to a 111 Beyer. He looks ready to tackle the likes of Smokey Stover and Fabulous Strike down the road.

(Two other Eastern sprinters earned monstrous Beyers for lopsided July 4 stakes triumphs: Confucius Say got a 114 winning the Charles Town Invitational Dash by 12 1/2 lengths, while Idiot Proof earned a 113 taking the Grade 3 Jersey Shore Breeders' Cup by 7 1/4.)

Finally, the Grade 2 Dwyer came up a very quick race as well, suggesting that both Any Given Saturday and Nobiz Like Shobiz have benefited from being freshened since their dismal Kentucky Derby runs and may yet offer competition to the winners of the Triple Crown races. Any Given Saturday enjoyed a tactical advantage getting clear early but both colts finished strongly while earning significant career-best Beyers. Any Given Saturday's winning figure of 110 is right there with Street Sense's Derby (110), Curlin's Preakness (111), and Rags to Riches's Belmont (107).

The second season has begun.