11/04/2004 12:00AM

Is a star about to be born in Iroquois?


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In the aftermath of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, surely many horseplayers are saying to themselves: There have to be some good 2-year-olds somewhere.

Indeed, what unfolded last Saturday in the Juvenile at Lone Star Park was enough to keep racing fans searching for a divisional leader. While the unheralded British invader Wilko prevailed in a major upset, the more highly regarded American horses were a collective disappointment, leaving the issue of 2-year-old supremacy largely unsettled.

This subject becomes relevant Saturday at Churchill Downs, where a rising star has occasionally surfaced in the as a Breeders' Cup afterthought. Last year, The Cliff's Edge became an instant contender in the division by winning the Iroquois in highly impressive style, just as seven 2-year-olds will race one mile here Saturday trying to do the same.

Nick Zito, who saddled The Cliff's Edge to his stakes-record 7 3/4-length victory last fall, has two colts with the kind of credentials to run into the current 2-year-old picture: Chief Commander and Highgrove, both owned by Tracy Farmer and both recent winners in maiden company at Keeneland. Zito said he holds both colts in high regard, and that time and seasoning would determine whether they could successfully proceed along the stakes trail.

One tipoff to Zito's chances Saturday may focus on the fact he has cornered the market on the two dominant jockeys at this meet: Rafael Bejarano will ride Chief Commander, and Pat Day has the mount on Highgrove.

Among the other top contenders in the 23rd running of the $100,000 Iroquois are the only two stakes winners in the field: Greater Good, the last-to-first winner of the Kentucky Cup Juvenile in his last start, and Straight Line, a hard-trying Boundary colt who captured the Honest Pleasure at Arlington Park in August and subsequently has been competitive in more demanding events.

The rest of the Iroquois field is Social Probation, Can't Trick Jake, and Norainonthisparty.

Besides The Cliff's Edge, other 2-year-olds to become major divisional players by winning the Iroquois in recent years include Ide (1995), Exploit (1998), Mighty (1999), and Harlan's Holiday (2001).

The Iroquois, which goes as the 10th of 11 Saturday races, is a prep for the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, just as the Pocahontas (race 8) leads to the Golden Rod Stakes.