07/16/2007 12:00AM

Top juveniles may already be running


NEW YORK - There are many special things about race meets like Del Mar, which opens Wednesday, and Saratoga, which opens a week from Wednesday. But one of the best is the way they look toward the future by placing an emphasis on 2-year-old racing.

You might say, "So what?" and note that some of racing's biggest recent stars, like Invasor, Bernardini, and Ghostzapper, did not make a splash in this country as juveniles. That's true, but it is also true that the exploits of horses like Street Sense and Afleet Alex have done a lot to reverse a growing disconnect between important 2-year-old and 3-year-old form.

There is a sense among fans that many major outfits prefer to wait and unveil their best juvenile prospects at Saratoga and Del Mar. If this is indeed the case, then we might be in for a real treat this summer, as there is an intriguing group of 2-year-olds who have already gotten their feet wet, and collectively seem a decided cut above the pre-Del Mar and Saratoga juveniles seen in recent seasons.

Here are thumbnail sketches on a dozen of them:

Rated Fiesty - Okay, she didn't run nearly as fast winning Churchill's Debutante Stakes (85 Beyer) as she did when she won the Kentucky Breeders' Cup Stakes over males on a sloppy track (102 Beyer). But what jumps out at you about this Exchange Rate filly is that she has yet to be tested, and when she won the Kentucky Breeders' Cup, she walloped Ready's Image, who came back to romp in Belmont's Tremont Stakes.

Ready's Image - Maybe he didn't like the wet track in Kentucky, or maybe he was ecstatic over the addition of blinkers in the Tremont (99 Beyer), but the way he powered away at Belmont did a lot to remove the bad taste of his loss to Rated Fiesty as the favorite. This More Than Ready colt is probably the most impressive Todd Pletcher-trained 2-year-old seen so far this season.

According to Plan - I've got a strong feeling this filly will pose a serious threat to Rated Fiesty very soon. She showed high speed in her only start, and drew off to win with ease (93 Beyer). And her distance-oriented pedigree - by Out of Place, from an Affirmed mare - suggests she'll be more effective as the races get longer.

Tale of Ekati - Trainer Barclay Tagg, who just lost Funny Cide to retirement, has something to look forward to with both According to Plan and this colt, who won by more than eight in his only start (89 Beyer). And there is pedigree power here as well, as Tale of Ekati is by Tale of the Cat, from a half-sister to Sky Beauty, a multiple Grade 1 winner who is worthy of the Hall of Fame.

Fed Watcher - This Songanda-prayer gelding won what many regard as the hottest maiden race of the Belmont meet in his debut (98 Beyer). And he has a license to stretch out, as his dam is a half to Montserrat, who was a multiple graded stakes winner going long on turf.

The Leopard - He was going well at the finish when second to Fed Watcher in his debut as the stronger half of an entry pounded down to 2-5. He is a $2.5 million 2-year-old in training purchase by Storm Cat, from a full sister to the Grade 1 winner Scan, and is trained by Pletcher.

Salute the Sarge - Was 2 for 2 at the just-concluded Hollywood Park meet, following a narrow debut score with a nose decision in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship. Neither race was fast (Beyers of 77 and 76), but being a half to Chelokee, who has been a good 3-year-old this year, Salute the Sarge has a right to get better as he stretches out.

Leonides - He lost the photo to Salute the Sarge in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship, and while he is by Richter Scale, who was a sprinter, his dam is a sibling to the multiple graded turf-stakes winner North East Bound.

Subtle Aly - The way she won her only start by five (97 Beyer) at Churchill Downs, she should have been odds-on, not almost 14-1. Her dam is a daughter of Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Very Subtle, and she is another in trainer Steve Asmussen's seeming assembly line of fast 2-year-olds.

Kodiak Kowboy - Like Subtle Aly and Rated Fiesty, he is also trained by Asmussen. He made Churchill's Bashford Manor Stakes his third straight win and second straight stakes score. And while he didn't run that fast in the Bashford Manor (87 Beyer), he did run faster than Rated Fiesty did winning the Debutante on the same card.

Slam Slew - This Grand Slam colt came within a half-length of Salute the Sarge in his debut, and showed marked improvement in his second and most recent start, winning decisively (91 Beyer).

Tasha's Miracle - This daughter of Harlan's Holiday is sort of a filly mirror image of Slam Slew. Both of her races were at Hollywood, where she narrowly missed in a debut run in modest time, and then moved forward in a big way to win going away last time out (90 Beyer) while well in hand.