07/29/2002 11:00PM

These freshmen may be special

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LAS VEGAS - As the summer rolls on, it has become clear that this year's group of freshman sires may be very special.

As with most crops of freshman stallions, it is a diverse group. Sires known for their speed include Confide, Coronado's Quest, Elusive Quality, Distorted Humor, Favorite Trick, Formal Gold, Grand Slam, Indian Charlie, Rodeo, Semoran, Souvenir Copy, Swiss Yodeler, Tale of the Cat, Western Echo, Western Fame, and Wild Rush.

Others are known for stamina, including Arch, Awesome Again, Deputy Commander, Gentlemen, Ops Smile, Skip Away, and Will's Way.

Other first-crop stallions are not expected to have immediate success, but their runners should be a force on turf at 3. These late-blooming turf sires include Anziyan, Flag Down, Fruition, Joyeux Danseur, King of Kings, Labeeb, Lasting Approval, Ops Smile, Romanov, Subordination, and Swain.

Several sires are not wasting any time making their mark at stud. Swiss Yodeler, who was himself best at 2, leads all first-crop stallions by money earned. From May to mid-July, it seemed as if offspring of Swiss Yodeler were winning every California-bred juvenile maiden race, and he has two stakes winners, led by Oberwald. From a small crop of only 44 foals, Swiss Yodeler is represented by eight winners from 17 starters.

Swiftly closing in on Swiss Yodeler is Elusive Quality, whose runners are winning around the world, on dirt and turf. Like his sire, Gone West, what makes Elusive Quality so attractive is his versatility. Elusive Quality has nine winners from 14 starters, including two stakes winners, Adopted Daughter and Frankiefourfingers. Chimichurri, out of the Raja Baba mare Hard Knocker, looked like a future stakes winner in her maiden triumph at Saratoga last week. Shandy was another recent maiden winner, and Omega Code, who has run well in California, should win his next start at Del Mar.

Elusive Quality's juveniles also are making noise in Europe. Nasij, a filly out of the Generous mare Hachiyah, finished third in the Group 3 Princess Margaret Stakes at six furlongs on the turf last weekend, behind the highly regarded Russian Rhythm (by Kingmambo). Elusive City, an impressive maiden winner at Lingfield, won the Group 2 Gerrard Investment Richmond Stakes at Goodwood on Tuesday. Elusive City is out of the Dayjur mare Star of Paris and descends from a strong Tartan female family that produced stakes winners Liturgism, Millions, Land Girl, and Demaloot Demashoot.

Distorted Humor (Forty Niner), who set a track record for seven furlongs (1:21) at Churchill Downs in the Churchill Downs Handicap, is also off to a fast start. Distorted Humor has transmitted his speed to his runners, most notably Awesome Humor, undefeated winner of the Debutante Stakes, who is headed to Saratoga's Adirondack Stakes on Aug. 11. Another daughter, Humorous Lady, captured the California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association Stakes at Del Mar, and the first four fillies across the finish line were all by first-crop stallions.

Finishing second to Humorous Lady was Golden KK, a daughter of Western Fame (one of five freshman sires by Gone West, including Elusive Quality, Grand Slam, Double Honor, and Rodeo), while Little Bit a Swiss (Swiss Yodeler) finished third. Souvenir Crown, a daughter of Souvenir Copy, finished fourth but was disqualified and placed ninth.

Arch was a late-blooming son of the late Kris S. out of the stakes-winning Danzig mare Aurora. He won the Super Derby at 3. His son Shabang Shabang, out of the stakes-winning Magesterial mare Wide Country, won a five-furlong maiden race at Canterbury Downs.

Deputy Commander (Deputy Minister), whose yearlings brought lofty prices last year, is the sire of Come Back Now, who won a one-mile maiden race on the turf at Ellis Park last weekend. Deputy Commander won the Travers Stakes, Super Derby, and Affirmed Handicap, and finished second to Skip Away in the Breeders' Cup Classic and to Free House in the Swaps Stakes.

Grand Slam won the Champagne Stakes and Futurity Stakes at 2, and was severely injured in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He returned at 3 to win the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan Stakes, but was more effective at under nine furlongs, finishing second to Reraise in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. His yearlings had exceptional conformation, and brought high prices at the sales.

As expected from a son of Gone West, Grand Slam has blessed his runners with high speed, and they have been versatile, winning on all surfaces. Two of his daughters looked particularly impressive in their debuts. Grand Natalie Rose was a wire-to-wire winner on grass at Belmont, and Stellar, who won a Saratoga maiden race last Sunday, is headed for stakes company. Stellar, out of the Ogygian mare Starr County, is a half-sister to stakes winner Gygistar. Her second dam is a half-sister to champion sprinter Eillo.

Champion Skip Away, whose runners are expected to be better with distance and maturity, has already had four winners, led by the quick Heart Ofa Champion. Last weekend, Christmas Away, out of the Black Tie Affair mare Christmas Affair, won a one-mile maiden race at Arlington Park.

The freshman stallions of 2002 are off to an auspicious start.