08/14/2001 11:00PM

Superfillies generate lofty buzz


WASHINGTON - It was 24 summers ago that a pair of 2-year-olds battled down the stretch at Saratoga Race Course, displaying such speed and tenacity that they both seemed to be exceptional talents. Affirmed and Alydar were living up to the tradition that the best-bred young prospects make their marks at Saratoga, and their confrontation in the Hopeful Stakes was just a precursor to one of the most famous rivalries in the sport's history.

Racing fans do not invoke the memory of Affirmed and Alydar lightly, but spectators at Saratoga Monday saw a duel that deserved comparison with the one in 1977. A pair of 2-year-olds battled to the wire in the Adirondack Stakes as they ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.16 - faster than Affirmed's winning time of 1:15.40 at the same distance.

But the parallels to Affirmed and Alydar are limited. You and Cashier's Dream, the combatants in the Adirondack, are fillies. They both come from humble backgrounds rather than the Thoroughbred establishment. Their performances mocked the breeders and yearling buyers who spend millions of dollars to obtain the best Thoroughbred pedigrees.

Cashier's Dream was bred in Michigan by James Jackson, a small-scale horseman who also owns and trains the filly. Her sire, Service Stripe, never won a stakes race of consequence. Accordingly, few people at Churchill Downs took notice of Cashier's Dream when she started her career in a $50,000 maiden claiming race at 43-1. But she won it easily, then stepped into allowance company, where she faced You and beat her convincingly. Those two performances prompted the Team Valor Racing Syndicate to buy Cashier's Dream and put her in the care of Steve Asmussen, one of the Midwest's top trainers.

Team Valor got a quick return on its investment when Cashier's Dream zipped to a stakes victory at Churchill, running 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02.52 and smashing the track record. Barry Irwin, the syndicate's managing partner, did some research and concluded: "No filly in history has run the distance faster - not even Ruffian."

You possesses a somewhat more respectable pedigree than her rival (her sire, You and I, was a top miler), but she too launched her career by winning a $50,000 maiden-claiming race. After her second-place finish behind Cashier's Dream in allowance company, an agent approached trainer Bobby Frankel and told him the filly was for sale. After making the purchase on behalf of owner Edmund Gann, Frankel said, "I gave her a little time off, and she was getting strong. She's a big, good-looking filly." But the trainer didn't imagine that she was capable of running the way she did at Saratoga. "How can you expect something like that?" he asked.

Cashier's Dream was the odds-on favorite in the Adirondack, and flew the first half-mile in 44.62 seconds, opening a 1 1/2-length lead. But You wouldn't let her get away and managed to stay within striking distance. The leader shifted into another gear as she turned for home, trying to shake off her pursuer. Donnie Meche, the jockey on Cashier's Dream said, "She gave me a strong burst at the top of the stretch. But the other horse ran the race of her life." You, carrying seven pounds fewer than the favorite, kept battling through the stretch and gradually wore down her rival to win by a neck. The rest of the field was 15 lengths behind the top two.

The electric timer confirmed what an extraordinary race this was. The 2-year-old fillies had run approximately as fast as a stakes quality older male, Left Bank, did on the same card. The performance produced a Beyer Speed Figure of 107 - an effort that would be good enough to win every Breeders' Cup 2-year-old race, for males as well as females, in more than a decade. The connections of both fillies were amazed.

"The race was startling," said Irwin. "Can you imagine a horse running that well and getting beat?" But in his euphoria he is trying to be realistic about the capabilities of Cashier's Dream. "She's the type who wants to go to the front. The more I watch her, the more I think she's going to be a sprinter as an older horse," he predicted. Team Valor wants its filly to get at least one Grade 1 stakes victory this year - possibly in the Spinaway at Saratoga - but Irwin is already thinking about trying to make Cashier's Dream the nation's champion sprinter as a 3-year-old.

Frankel intends to give You a short rest after the hard effort in Saratoga and then run her in two races this fall, one of them the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. But he, too, is already looking ahead to next season. If You turns out to be a solid distance runner, she would be capable of challenging males in the 3-year-old classics.

Because of the shortcomings of their pedigrees, Cashier's Dream and You aren't going to be another Affirmed and Alydar. But they surely do have the talent to be exciting performers.

(c) 2001, The Washington Post