01/11/2006 12:00AM

Tight race for top 2-year-old

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Los Alamitos
DM Shicago, a contender for world champion, won three Grade 1's but skipped the Champion of Champions.

The determination of the champion 2-year-old Quarter Horse could come down to whether the 25 championship voters gave equal consideration to Grade 1 stakes held earlier in the year versus year-ending Grade 1 stakes that are fresher in the voters' minds.

The 2005 champions will be announced on Jan. 18, and the voters' selections were due this past Monday.

The voting for champion 2-year-old could be a pivotal test of the "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately theory." This theory infers that recent stakes accomplishments can overshadow races held earlier in the year. The voting could be a close decision between the gelding Leading Spirit and the filly Higher Fire, each deserving of the 2-year-old title.

Leading Spirit was the unquestioned divisional leader when he won his first seven starts, including three Grade 1 futurities in New Mexico, before finishing fourth in his All American Futurity trial on Aug. 18. He then underwent surgery that sidelined him for the remainder of the year.

The Los Alamitos-based Higher Fire won the Grade 1 Ed Burke Million on June 25, then made her strong championship bid late in the year with a win in the Grade 1 Golden State Million on Nov. 4 and a second in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Million on Dec. 9.

Leading Spirit has three Grade 1 wins to Higher Fire's two. But, Higher Fire won two $1 million futurities, and Leading Spirit has no million-dollar wins.

The voting for world champion could show that DM Shicago's three Grade 1 derby wins at Ruidoso Downs last summer were enough to carry him to Quarter Horse racing's premier title.

DM Shicago convincingly swept the Ruidoso, Rainbow, and All American derbies and was then shipped to Los Alamitos to compete in the Grade 1 Champion of Champions, the stakes that has had more world-champion winners than any Quarter Horse race. A gelding, DM Shicago became ill a week before the Dec. 10 Champion of Champions and did not race, shipping to Sunland for The Championship at Sunland Park, another Grade 1, on Dec. 30. He had a horrid start and was blocked from making any rally, finishing eighth in the only off-the-board performance of his 12-race career.

Ocean Runaway won the Champion of Champions as the 9-5 favorite, but finished three-quarters of a length behind DM Shicago for second in the Rainbow Derby on July 23.

Older stallion Fredricksburg ended the year with Grade 1 wins in the Refrigerator Handicap and The Championship at Sunland Park, but those are his only Grade 1 wins, while DM Shicago won three Grade 1's.

Likewise, older gelding Catchmeinyourdreams had two late-season Grade 1 wins, the Los Alamitos Championship and the MBNA America Challenge Championship. He finished eighth in the Champion of Champions at 5-2 odds.

Not for Long in Anaheim

Not for Long, a two-time derby winner in 2004, is after his first stakes win since taking the Grade 1 Golden State Derby 18 months ago when he starts in the $18,000 Anaheim Handicap on Friday night at Los Alamitos.

The 5-year-old gelding, who also won the Grade 1 Governor's Cup Derby, could use a strong performance in the Anaheim as a stepping stone to the trials to the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Championship on Feb. 4.