01/19/2009 12:00AM

Two fillies gave show to remember


NEW YORK - It wasn't the richest or most prestigious race run over the holiday weekend. It wasn't the fastest event in terms of Beyer Speed Figures, either. But it's possible that Saturday's Santa Ynez Stakes at Santa Anita might have more impact than any other stakes event last weekend. And that is because of the strong performance from the winner, Alpha Kitten, and an equally fine effort from the runner-up, Evita Argentina.

It was striking how little early speed there was on paper in the Santa Ynez, and as little as there was, there was even less when potential pace-players Pinkarella and Real Fancy Runner were scratched. Sure enough, this "no pace" scenario played out on the track. The early fractions of 23.51 and 46.31 seconds were very slow. In the two prior sprints on the card, optional claiming/allowance horses went 23.06 and 45.88, and $16,000 claimers went in 22.20 and 45.02.

This put Alpha Kitten and Evita Argentina at a distinct disadvantage, as Evita Argentina is a stone-cold closer, and Alpha Kitten showed that when sprinting, at least, she likes to operate from off the pace. It was a good thing these two 3-year-old fillies had some adversity to overcome, because otherwise Alpha Kitten and Evita Argentina would have finished about a furlong ahead of everyone else. But that's still how much better than the rest it felt like they were after both squared up on the outside for strong late rallies and blew past front-runners who, under the circumstances, would be very hard to like at this level again.

The Santa Ynez got a winning Beyer Figure of only 90, but I wouldn't hold that against Alpha Kitten or Evita Argentina. The early splits were so slow that it was impossible for new 3-year-old fillies to run fast enough late to improve much on that final-time figure. In fact, it is reasonable to expect these two to earn considerably better Beyers under more honest pace conditions. It isn't much of a stretch to envision Alpha Kitten and Evita Argentina going on to important successes this season. Sure, Stardom Bound casts a long shadow over the 3-year-old filly division. But beyond her, there are serious questions, and Stardom Bound can't be everywhere all the time.

Some thoughts on other weekend stakes, by division:

3-year-old males. Square Eddie wasn't terrible finishing second at 3-5 in the San Rafael Saturday at Santa Anita. The Pamplemousse, who beat him, did lay down an honest pace after shaking loose, and might be a nice horse. But for those inclined to be skeptical about the whole bunch who ran in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, in which Square Eddie finished second, Square Eddie did nothing Saturday to make you reconsider.

Along the same lines, just because Chocolate Candy and Axel Foley came out of third- and sixth-place finishes in the CashCall Futurity to finish one-two in Saturday's California Derby at Golden Gate, it doesn't mean the CashCall Futurity is suddenly a much better race than we originally thought it was. It's probably wise to regard the CashCall Futurity still as a slow race and take the position that two coming out of it to dominate the California Derby does little to flatter the California Derby.

There are real doubts as to exactly how far Silver City want to go, an important consideration right now for a member of this division. But when it comes to sprinting, Silver City, easy winner of the Dixieland Stakes opening day at Oaklawn Friday, is a running fool.

Sprinters. The speedball Ikigai made it 5 wins from 6 starts since moving to trainer Marty Wolfson last summer with a clear-cut score in Saturday's Mr. Prospector Stakes at Gulfstream Park. A colt who in his first two career starts, both for trainer Todd Pletcher, earned a best Beyer of 68, Ikigai earned a career-best of 113 Saturday, the third time he cracked the triple-digit Beyer barrier for Wolfson. Maybe Ikigai is the real deal, but I would be more inclined to take his performance Saturday as gospel if Black Seventeen, who stumbled at the start, and Kelly's Landing showed the kind of early speed you would normally expect from them.

Older females. Time is almost up, if it isn't already, for Country Star to become the horse she threatened to be when she won the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet and Grade 1 Alcibiades as a 2-year-old in 2007. Her three-race campaign last year was forgettable, and her second as the favorite in Sunday's El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita was not impressive. That said, the winner of the El Encino, Life Is Sweet, is an intriguing prospect even if this division is the the strongest we have. Life Is Sweet came from way back to dominate in by far the best performance of an interesting career. Since it was her first start since May, she's got lots of room to improve.

Older males. In large part because of a winning Beyer that was a brutally low 89, it was difficult to know what to make of Cowboy Cal's win in last week's San Pasqual Handicap. But even with a winning Beyer of 98 that is more in line with what you would expect, the going-away upset at 18-1 by Nownownow in Saturday's San Fernando Stakes at Santa Anita was just as hard to assess. Granted, Nownownow's attempt last year at the Irish 2000 Guineas was misguided, and he was stretching out to a distance Saturday that he figured to like better. But Nownownow hadn't won since his upset of the 2007 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, a prime contender for the worst Breeders' Cup race ever. If you're hoping that his win Saturday makes him a much-needed addition to the handicap ranks, you'd better hope that the blinkers he added Saturday made him a new horse.