11/26/2007 12:00AM

Two 2-year-olds grab attention

EmailNEW YORK - There is always a lot of big-time stakes racing over Thanksgiving weekend, and this year was no exception. I mean, how could you not be blown away by the way Daaher manhandled Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Midnight Lute in Saturday's quickly run Cigar Mile at Aqueduct? But for me, the tastiest dish of Thanksgiving weekend besides homemade stuffing from scratch is often the 2-year-old stakes races.

While the Cigar Mile, Hollywood Park's Citation and Matriarch, Laurel's De Francis Memorial Dash, and Churchill Downs's Clark Handicap are certainly fine races, in truth they sometimes carry the whiff of leftovers. These races, as well as the other stakes open to older horses at this time, rarely have a significant impact on the Eclipse Award picture. The Breeders' Cup has carved out such an overwhelming role in determining champions that it has left little, if any, room for anything else. Moreover, these races are usually populated by horses who for one reason or another either did not compete in the Breeders' Cup, or didn't make the grade in the Cup.

Of course, the Thanksgiving weekend stakes for 2-year-olds are not immune to these same factors. It wouldn't have mattered what happened in these races over the weekend, no one was going to wrest away the championships that await Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies winners War Pass and Indian Blessing.

But what distinguishes these late-season 2-year-old stakes is that instead of being consolation prizes, or the means to mark a career swan song, they are often excellent barometers of 3-year-old form in the season to come.

Explanation for this includes the fact that Aqueduct's Remsen and Demoiselle, which were both run on Saturday, are the first major stakes for juveniles in this country at 1 1/8 miles. There are a lot of horses who can handle the 1 1/16 miles of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile races who can't get nine furlongs. And if you can't get nine furlongs, you can't be a serious 3-year-old. The Kentucky Jockey Club and the Golden Rod, which were also run on Saturday, are run on the same track as the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks. Yet perhaps the best reason why these races offer a good read on coming 3-year-old form is the most obvious one: The horses who run in them are simply four weeks closer to being 3 than the horses who ran in the Breeders' Cup.

By virtue of winning the Remsen and Kentucky Jockey Club, Court Vision and Anak Nakal, a barnmate of War Pass's, will garner a good measure of respect when the volume on Kentucky Derby talk gets turned up very soon. The funny thing is, I'm skeptical of both, at least right now.

Court Vision did show considerable determination to run down Atoned and win the Remsen after being badly blocked turning for home and then engaging in a big bumping match while trying to get running room. On the other hand, no matter how fast Court Vision ran his final furlong, the fact is he had all day to get up, as underscored by the Remsen's dismal winning Beyer Speed Figure of 76. It should also be noted that the horse Court Vision nailed, Atoned, had trouble of his own, and was certainly no world-beater going in. Atoned wasn't far from falling when he clipped heels late on the first turn, and his only prior stakes win came in an off-the-turf race at Monmouth with a winning Beyer of 65.

As for Anak Nakal, he benefited from a great trip in the Kentucky Jockey Club, sitting off a three-way pace battle and getting what proved to be a crucial first jump on the deep closers. In a larger sense, the outcome of this race proved to be a big advertisement for Etched, who drowned Anak Nakal in last month's Nashua Stakes.

There were, however, two 2-year-old performances over the weekend that were especially interesting. The first was Massive Drama's victory on Thanksgiving Day in the Hollywood Prevue. Massive Drama, the Bob Baffert-trained colt who won his debut nicely at Monmouth the day before the Breeders' Cup, contested a fast pace in the Prevue despite missing the break, responded gamely when hooked by the promising Into Mischief in the stretch, and still was going away late. This was a high-quality effort.

The other was Cowboy Cal's impressive romp in Saturday's Laurel Futurity. Cowboy Cal didn't beat a lot, that's for sure. But he ran fast, earning a Beyer of 95, and this was his second straight dominating win since moving to turf. Although he might be a grass freak, it is still too early to classify Cowboy Cal as just a turf specialist. True, he didn't run well on dirt in his only other start, but that was in his debut at Saratoga, and it's intriguing that he was well-bet that day. A lot of horses don't fire first time out, and Cowboy Cal is clearly a much better horse now. It will be interesting to see if trainer Todd Pletcher gives him another shot on dirt. Here's hoping he does.