10/10/2006 11:00PM

Tagg debut victor to Grade 1? Hmm. . .


Trainer Barclay Tagg has a long-standing reputation of being conservative and judicious, so when he gets aggressive with a colt, it's worth paying heed. Until this year, the only time he had run a horse in the Kentucky Derby was in 2003, when he won it with Funny Cide. Earlier this year, Tagg pressed on for the Kentucky Derby with Showing Up, even though owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson already had a top-ranked contender in Barbaro. Showing Up ran well in the Derby, finishing sixth, then validated Tagg's opinion in subsequent starts after being moved to the turf, over which he won the Secretariat Stakes.

A few months later, Tagg, by his actions, is touting Nobiz Like Shobiz, who is moving straight from a debut victory against maidens Sept. 9 into Saturday's Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. A strong performance in that race would move Nobiz Like Shobiz right into the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs.

"This is a great big, strong horse," Tagg said on a conference call earlier this week. "He broke his maiden rather easily and impressively. He looks like he'll be able to handle it. I don't think we're doing the wrong thing. If we want to run in the Breeders' Cup, we have to test him a little bit."

There are two races Saturday for 2-year-old males that could have Breeders' Cup implications - the Champagne and the $400,000 In Reality division of the Florida Stallion Stakes at Calder - but the Champagne has far more depth. In addition to Nobiz Like Shobiz, the field is expected to include Hopeful Stakes runner-up Scat Daddy, Sapling Stakes winner Xchanger, and Got the Last Laugh, who dead-heated for victory in the Arlington-Washington Futurity.

The In Reality is headed by Green Vegas and Straight Faced, who have been the leaders of the pack in intramural squabbles in Florida this summer.

Nobiz Like Shobiz made his first start going a mile, a difficult distance at which to debut. But he relished the distance and the wide, sweeping turns at Belmont Park. He won by

10 3/4 lengths and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 96.

"He didn't show any inclination to be a sprinter or a quick speed horse," Tagg said. "I had a feeling he might like a mile. Fortunately, he handled it quite well. I was tickled to death with it. It's an awfully big jump to go from a maiden to a Grade 1, but what he's done he did so easily, and it must have impressed a lot of people, because we've turned down a lot of offers. If he wins, he's a definite candidate for the Breeders' Cup."

Nobiz Like Shobiz, a son of Albert the Great, was bred and is owned by Elizabeth Valando, the widow of noted Broadway music publisher Tommy Valando. The Valandos' best previous runner was Fly So Free, who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in 1990 and was named that year's champion 2-year-old colt.

According to Tagg, Nobiz Like Shobiz was "a big oaf for the longest while," which necessitated waiting until September for his debut.

"He would stagger out of the gate," Tagg said. "He finally came into himself. We didn't want to push him. We took our time. It would have been detrimental to start him out going 5 1/2 furlongs."

Got the Last Laugh was pointed to the Champagne rather than last week's Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, because the Champagne mirrors the Arlington-Washington Futurity, which is also around one turn. The Breeders' Cup Juvenile is a two-turn, 1 1/16-mile race.

"If he's good enough to get through the Champagne, we can worry about the two-turn deal later," said Bill Mott, who trains Got the Last Laugh, a son of Distorted Humor. "The Champagne is important itself to win. It could be a major goal, rather than just thinking about it as a prep for the Breeders' Cup. It's extremely important for this horse to win a race like the Champagne, because that would make him a stallion prospect. The Champagne is held in high regard."

Doug O'Neill, who sent out Great Hunter to a victory in the Breeders' Futurity, will try to take the Champagne with Liquidity, who showed sharp speed when he defeated maidens in his debut at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting on Sept. 27.

"He's an extremely talented horse," O'Neill said. "He was ready at Del Mar, and then we geared him up for the Barretts Juvenile, but he didn't get in. So even though he's only had one race, he's got a good enough foundation as though he's run a few times. He's classy for an inexperienced horse."

O'Neill won last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile with Stevie Wonderboy. Paul Reddam, who owns both Great Hunter and Liquidity, won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in 2004 with Wilko, whom Reddam co-owned.

In Florida, the trainers of both Green Vegas and Straight Faced are being circumspect about moving on to the Breeders' Cup.

"I'm not sure yet," said Luis Olivares, who trains Green Vegas. "I'm just taking it one race at a time. I'm just looking at Saturday, and then we'll go from there. He's already won going a mile and 70 yards, so I don't think a mile and a sixteenth will be a problem. Some horses haven't gone that far, so that should give him an advantage. He's doing real well. I think he'll run a big race."