09/17/2009 11:00PM

Shining the spotlight on some overlooked ladies


Since it is one of the weaker aspects of human nature to be able to concentrate on only one thing at a time - pick-six carryovers being the obvious exception - I say thank goodness that Rachel Alexandra's remarkable season has come to an end. Now, it will be possible to take a look at what was missed while she dominated the conversation.

The sport at Del Mar was especially overlooked, which is no surprise, since no North American racetrack did business farther afield from Rachel's Ground Zero, and the main-track sport there was conducted on a synthetic surface that seemed to make more unhappy headlines than the arrest record of the Chargers starting lineup.

On top of that, it did not help to make sense of the West Coast's summer competition when the most important race of the meet, the $1 million Pacific Classic, was won by the 24-1 shot Richard's Kid, even though he did beat the winners of the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Santa Anita Handicap. Winning trainer Bob Baffert has insisted that synthetic surfaces tend to be a great leveler, shrinking the gap between good horses and those a cut below. If that theory has merit, Richard's Kid will have a chance to shrink another gap in the Breeders' Cup Classic over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface in November.

The most accomplished 2-year-olds of the summer were Del Mar Futurity winner Lookin at Lucky and Del Mar Debutante winner Mi Sueno. This time of year, promising 2-year-olds are like reality shows, coming along every half-hour or so. But it cannot be ignored that the winners of the main track Breeders' Cup races for the age group at Santa Anita in 2008 were the winners of the Del Mar Futurity and Debutante.

The two horses this reporter clings to in the wake of Del Mar are both fillies, representing the long and short of the competitive spectrum. And, if seeing is believing, both of them should be taken seriously when their Breeders' Cup races are run on Ladies' Day, Nov. 6.

If you missed Carlsbad's victory in the Rancho Bernardo Handicap on Sept. 4, don't fret. For starters, it was buried on the Friday twilight program leading off Pacific Classic weekend, serving pretty much as the warm-up act for the Pete Zorn concert at the track that evening. Also, it was very, very fast.

It was fast enough to be a track record for 6 1/2 furlongs, although such an accomplishment at Del Mar should be taken with a king-size grain of salt. The surface lacks not only history, but year-to-year consistency. Visually, though, Carlsbad's four-length win over fellow 3-year-old Lady Lumberjack was the kind of race that lingers. No sprinting filly or mare has been more impressive in California this year.

Carlsbad is hanging loose at Santa Anita right now, comfortable enough at the Jeff Mullins barn, keeping her options open. She is a natural for the $1 million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at seven furlongs, but she was not nominated to the program, which is hard to believe, since she is a daughter of Rocky Bar and bred in Arizona. Okay, so it's not so hard to believe. Owner-breeder Dennis Weir would need to fork over $150,000 for the pleasure of running in the Cup.

"We've had plenty of guys say they'll put up the money and split the purse," said assistant trainer Ral Ayers Friday morning as he fiddled with Carlsbad's forelock.

Carlsbad has won 7 of 9 and $387,126. In her race before the Rancho Bernardo, she was fifth going 1 1/16 miles on the grass in the San Clemente, her first race in two months. Ayers asked the filly to turn in her stall, revealing a racy, downhill profile wrapped in dark bay.

"Before that turf race, she was a little heavier, but she's tightened back down," he said. "And she does have a personality. Sometimes I'll be checking her legs, and she'll reach down, undo the Velcro on my cap and then chew on the brim."

Down the stable road and around the corner, Magical Fantasy reigns as the big mare in the Paddy Gallagher barn, both literally and figuratively. From the moment she returned to the grass last spring, after a brief flirtation with the synthetic main course, the robust daughter of Diesis has been queen of the West Coast turf, winning the Santa Barbara at Santa Anita, the Gamely at Hollywood, and the John C. Mabee at Del Mar.

Whether or not this would translate to success in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf against the likes of Forever Together, Dynaforce, and whatever monsters arrive from Europe is difficult to gauge. There has not been much ebb and flow between the eastern and western turf mares this year (although Black Mamba, beaten twice by Magical Fantasy, tried and failed on soft ground behind Dynaforce in the Beverly D.), and two of Magical Fantasy's wins went down to the wire.

"I thought about the Beverly D.," Gallagher said, stepping into Magical Fantasy's stall. "But then the weather can be so unpredictable, and there was every reason to stay here."

Magical Fantasy shifted in her thick bed of shavings and peered at a visitor. She is a big enough mare who clearly never misses a meal, and her profile, leaning toward Roman, echoes her paternal grandsire, Easy Goer.

"She hasn't been doing all that much since Del Mar," Gallagher said. "When they open the turf here next week, I'll be getting a couple works into her for the Yellow Ribbon.

"It seems like just this morning I started looking a little bit at the competition," Gallagher added with a grin. "Fun to do that, for a Breeders' Cup race. Means your horse has done something right."