07/21/2002 11:00PM

Spa's coming of age story


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Saratoga has been a reliable showcase for American racing since 1864, and the most exciting developments have come from the 2-year-old divisions. Breeders and owners send their best young stock to the Spa, and so every maiden race is full of quality and every stakes race boasts prospective champions.

Almost every one of the 2-year-old fillies in Wednesday's opening feature, the $150,000 Schuylerville at six furlongs, has the potential to become a Cicada, a Numbered Account, or a La Prevoyante, Schuylerville winners in past years. But the filly whose form calls loudest for attention is John Oxley's recently acquired Mike's Wildcat, an eight-length winner of last month's Astoria Stakes at Belmont Park.

That smashing victory by itself would have been sufficient reason for Oxley's interest to become roused. An Oklahoma oil man, Oxley is always ready to acquire a promising young horse, such as Booklet, who was prominent on the classic trail this past spring.

The kicker in Oxley's offer, however, was the sire of the filly, Forest Wildcat. A Storm Cat stallion, Forest Wildcat is the sire of two of Oxley's finest runners, Snow Dance, a 4-year-old filly who won four stakes and almost $555,000, and Forest Secrets, a 4-year-old filly who races for Oxley's wife, Debby, and is a Grade 1 stakes-winner of $566,000.

Snow Dance will run in Saturday's $500,000 Diana Handicap for fillies and mares on the grass, while Forest Secrets is to run Sunday in the $250,000 Go for Wand Handicap for fillies and mares at nine furlongs. This could be quite a weekend for the Oxleys and for Forest Wildcat.

The sale of Mike's Wildcat was completed this past week and trainer John Ward is still studying his newest charge. But he likes what he sees.

"I only know what people have told me, but much of it has been encouraging," Ward comments. "She seems to have considerable natural ability. I also like the way she goes about her business. Nothing seems to bother her. Our major goal for her at Saratoga will be the $200,000 Spinaway on Aug. 30."

Jilbab joins first rank

A near-disaster led to a successful trip. Mike Luzzi was fortunate to stay on Jilbab after she stumbled badly leaving the gate in Saturday's $350,000 Coaching Club American Oaks. Once she recovered, the rider kept her far back, stalking the field. He didn't call on her until they turned for home, and that proved the recipe for a decisive victory in this prestigious test for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/2 miles.

Jilbab has made a career out of surprising people. She was originally assigned to one of the Maktoum family stables for ordinary horses. But when she won an allowance race at Belmont Park last month by more than 13 lengths, she was transferred to Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Stable for horses of quality.

"Kiaran McLaughlin, who trained her, told us she doesn't like to do too much in the mornings," Tom Albertrani, a Godolphin assistant, said. "We just trained her lightly and that appears to be the way to go. She certainly showed her stamina in the CCA Oaks. Her next start is likely to be in the mile-and-a-quarter Alabama at Saratoga on Aug. 17."