10/02/2002 11:00PM

Sky Mesa the stuff of dreams

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Racing fans most often pin their greatest hopes on 2-year-olds.

Perhaps it is because the horses are so flashy and full of raw potential and still have not had ample opportunity to have their weaknesses exposed. Whatever the case, it is races like the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity, the Grade 2 frace that will be run for the 89th time Saturday, that so frequently stir the dreams of racing fans who are on perpetual lookout for the next star.

A prime example of a 2-year-old with a seemingly limitless future is the unbeaten Sky Mesa, to be saddled by John T. Ward Jr. in the $400,000 Breeders' Futurity, a 1 1/16-mile race that represents the most demanding test yet for each of the six entered.

Sky Mesa "is an extremely talented animal that has developed just the way you'd like him," said Ward.

Indeed, that development has been steady and spectacular. Sky Mesa won his Aug. 3 debut at Saratoga, and four weeks later won the Grade 1 Hopeful. That 1 3/4-length triumph came despite a viral infection between races.

Keeneland fans are likely to make Sky Mesa a heavy favorite. Sky Mesa is a Pulpit colt owned by John C. Oxley.

Sky Mesa's top opponent might be Lone Star Sky, a winner of three of four races, most recently the $200,000 Cradle Stakes at River Downs.

The other starters are Tito's Beau, Private Gold, Truckle Feature, and Super Frolic.

Win, lose, or dead heat, Sky Mesa will gallop out to the regular finish line, said Ward. All 1 1/16-mile dirt races at Keeneland begin and end at what is normally the sixteenth pole. The gallop-out is intended to prepare Sky Mesa for the mile and an eighth Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

The Breeders' Futurity is the leadoff race in the new NTRA Fall Pick Three, a $1 minimum wager that also includes the Champagne from Belmont and the Norfolk from Santa Anita. All three races are part of the Bessemer Trust series and will be televised live on CNBC.

Post time is 5:17 p.m. Eastern for the Breeders' Futurity, the last of nine Saturday races.

The Breeders' Futurity has been won by such future stars as Round Table (1956), Swale (1983), Forty Niner (1987), and Cat Thief (1998).