10/19/2006 11:00PM

Some likely stars get overshadowed


PHOENIX - The only thing I don't like as we close in on another Breeders' Cup is how horses and performances that may not have any impact on the impending big day get overlooked. The major Breeders' Cup preps and their ramifications the past couple weekends are important, but there have been other things happening away from that bright light. Here are three horses whose names deserve to be in headlines:

Midnight Lute: There were always high expectations for Midnight Lute after he first jumped on the scene with a smashing maiden win at Del Mar on July 25, 2005. But he didn't race again for 368 days because of breathing problems. He was a solid second in his July 28 return at Del Mar and then powered home to win a good allowance race there in late August. That set him up for a try at the Grade 3 Perryville at Keeneland on Oct. 13.

He passed that test with flying colors, putting in a strong rally from off the pace to win going away by almost five lengths under Victor Espinoza, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 101.

"We've always thought he was a monster," trainer Bob Baffert was quoted as saying after the Perryville win. "He had some throat problems early on, but we healed those, and now he really is starting to show his stuff. I was glad he got the trip. He liked the Polytrack. Victor rode him perfectly. It was just one of those good days where everything works out."

Espinoza was impressed as well.

"He finished really strong and went by the other horses really easy," he said. "He broke kind of slow out of the gate [in his last race]. Today he broke better. He really likes to go, but I didn't want him too close to the pace."

Now fully back in form and apparently getting air again, his potential seems unlimited. It's hardly out of reach to believe he can be a big player in a race like the Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita at the end of the year. He is proven on a synthetic surface, which bodes well for his races at Hollywood, too.

Dark Islander: Obrigado and A. P. Warrior may not be among the top turf horses in the country, but they're still pretty nice. So the fact that Dark Islander just toyed with them in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby Oct. 14 should tell you this is one serious horse.

"I knew he was any kind of colt," said rider Jose Valdivia Jr. "He broke running, and he was tugging me down the backside. As you could see at the top of the stretch, when I turned him loose, he just exploded. At the sixteenth pole, I had to sit down on him again, because he seemed to gawk a bit at the big screen. I'll tell you one thing, I don't think we saw the best of him today."

Dark Islander earned a Beyer Figure of 99.

Trainer John Hills, who knows Southern California well, having worked for John Gosden when that top horseman was on the circuit, had hoped the move to the United States would do the trick, and he had to love what he saw.

"This is a horse that's been progressive, and the ground's gone soft in England now and he's a fast-ground horse," Hills said. "It was either come to California or wait for Dubai, and we decided to come here and go to the Hollywood Derby after this if it all worked well."

The Hollywood Derby, to be run Nov. 26, is a Grade 1, $500,000 race at 1 1/4 miles on turf.

Day Pass: He has made only one start, but it was a good one. Day Pass, a $725,000 son of Five Star Day trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, debuted at Belmont Oct. 7. He was away dead last in the field of nine, but then, in a move belying his lack of experience, he sustained a long four-wide run that carried him to the lead in deep stretch and a 1 1/2-length victory. He completed the 5 1/2-furlong race in 1:04 and earned a Beyer of 80.

"This is a tough time of the year to break your maiden because there aren't a lot of spots to run," McLaughlin said. "Believe me, this horse is one of the ones. He's got the talent and a great mind."

McLaughlin has mentioned actually being tempted by the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile at 1 1/16 miles, though that seems too much too soon, particularly for a colt he holds in such high regard. Surely races like the Grade 3 Nashua and Grade 2 Remsen seem more logical, and maybe even the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity could be in his future.