08/28/2005 11:00PM

Sprinter could be king of 3-year-olds

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Greg Gilchrist was back home at his Golden Gate barn Monday morning receiving slaps on the back for a fabulous weekend, which included a considerable rooting interest in the impressive Del Mar Debutante performance of Wild Fit. The Debutante winner is a daughter of Wild Wonder, who was trained by Gilchrist to win seven stakes and more than $600,000 in the late 1990's.

"I missed the race, doggonit," Gilchrist said. "But it looks like he's finally come up with a real runner, and good for him. I've got a share in that stud."

Gilchrist can be forgiven for missing the Debutante. On Saturday evening, while the Debutante was unfolding out West, Gilchrist was at Saratoga, enjoying the delights of the Spa scene while decompressing from yet another brilliant piece of work by the star of his northern California stable, Lost in the Fog.

Other than Afleet Alex and Giacomo, the heroes of the 2005 Triple Crown, no Thoroughbred has received more attention this year than Lost in the Fog. And rightfully so. In taking the King's Bishop Stakes, Lost in the Fog ran his unbeaten record to nine straight, including 7 for 7 this year, with Hall of Famer Russell Baze aboard for all but one. Those nine gems have come over seven different tracks in California, Arizona, Florida, and New York, both upstate and down. So far, nobody has been able to lay a glove on him.

Of course, taking a horse on the road means facing unexpected twists and turns. But nothing could have prepared Gilchrist and owner Harry Aleo for the hilariously off-key inquisition by ESPN roving reporter Quint Kessenich last Saturday as the King's Bishop was about to unfold.

"The horses are less than a hundred yards from the gate, and all of a sudden there's this guy pushing me out of the way, leaning down on Harry," Gilchrist said. "I wanted to give him an elbow."

It probably wouldn't have fazed Kessenich, an All-American lacrosse player turned broadcaster. Not since Dan Rather bulldogged his way through the floor of the 1968 Democratic Convention has a reporter been so intent on getting the last-minute lowdown.

"The first question I hear him ask is something about selling the horse, or how much money Harry turned down," Gilchrist said. "I thought Harry put that baby to bed a long time ago. Then I heard something about the Battle of the Bulge."

Here, the actual transcript is required to fully appreciate the exchange, regarding the thrill of owning Lost in the Fog:

Kessenich: "You played minor league baseball. You battled in World War II, the Battle of the Bulge. How does this compare to those lifetime moments?"

Aleo: "How am I going to compare this great horse, winning eight in a row, with the Battle of the goddamn Bulge? Forget it."

Hmmm. Maybe the good fortune of surviving a military encounter that resulted in more than 180,000 dead Americans and Germans has nothing to do with horses running in circles.

"Heck, he might as well have asked me how I liked being in Vietnam in '68 and '69," Gilchrist said.

Lost in the Fog, always gracious in victory, has averaged a start a month since he made his debut last November. Gilchrist and Aleo must now decide if they want to roll the dice with a race somewhere in September, or train up to the Breeders' Cup, set for Oct. 29 at Belmont Park.

"The only real choice we have is whether or not to run in the Breeders' Cup," Gilchrist said, referring to the six-furlong BC Sprint. "We talked about some options, but for now I figure we should just get the horse home and make sure he's fine. There's no real urgency. It's not like we're going to run him in the next two weeks or anything.

"If he were to win the Breeders' Cup, I would think he'd have a hell of a shot at some honors this year," Gilchrist said. "But that's for other people to decide. Certainly, Afleet Alex has to win something."

In fact, the Eclipse Awards provide the perfect framework to honor both outstanding colts. If the voting were held today, Afleet Alex would be crowned champion 3-year-old, and Lost in the Fog, also a 3-year-old, would be a slam dunk for champion sprinter. No fewer than six 3-year-olds have been named top sprinter since the awards were inaugurated in 1971, but none of them doubled as champion of the entire division.

Speculation, however, is beginning to abound. Should Lost in the Fog step up to defeat older sprinters once or even twice before season's end, rest assured there will be support for naming him Horse of the Year as well, especially since no other horse has been able to both dominate a division and maintain a long campaign. Recent champions Favorite Trick, Charismatic, and Azeri proved you could be Horse of the Year without a traditional r?sum?.

For now, Gilchrist, Aleo, and Baze are enjoying the ride. Lost in the Fog has become nothing less than a hometown celebrity.

"And not just in California," Gilchrist said. "The people on the East Coast have really embraced that horse. Walking through the crowd at the races Sunday at Saratoga, I must have had 10 people stop me and say what a nice horse I have, and thank me for bringing him back there. When you turn their heads, you've done something."