09/20/2004 11:00PM

Watch for Balletto in Breeders' Cup


LAS VEGAS - I loved Balletto in her career debut on July 18, when she closed with a flourish at 16-1. She was dismissed that day primarily because she is by Timber Country. Although Timber Country won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and was a champion at 2, and also won the Preakness Stakes at 3, his offspring are rarely seen in this country. Timber Country was exported to stand stud in Japan, where he is now a successful stallion.

In my DRF pedigree handicapping column of July 22, I thoroughly dissected Balletto's spectacular pedigree after that maiden victory. If players knew the exceptional class of her female family, she never would have paid $35 in her first start. Balletto is out of the stakes-winning Nijinsky II mare Destiny Dance, a daughter of 2-year-old champion filly and Arkansas Derby winner Althea (by Alydar). Balletto's third dam is the incomparable Courtly Dee, who produced eight high-quality stakes winners and is considered one of racing's greatest broodmares.

Sense of Style, who looked so good winning her maiden debut and the Spinaway Stakes, added the Matron Stakes on Sunday at 1-5. She defeated Balletto at 12-1, but Balletto will be my strong choice to turn the tables on Sense of Style and win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. And she certainly will be the better price.

This year looks similar to 1989, when Stella Madrid was the divisional leader of the juvenile fillies, reeling off victories in the Spinaway and Matron before adding the one-mile Frizette Stakes, where she defeated the inexperienced Go for Wand by a diminishing half-length.

A daughter of the late Deputy Minister, Go for Wand had won her only two races decisively (her second start by 18 1/4 lengths) and was the even-money favorite in the Frizette, despite Stella Madrid's record. Stella Madrid was the 2-1 favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, with Go for Wand 5-2, but Go for Wand turned the tables on her rival and won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies by 2 3/4 lengths over Sweet Roberta, with Stella Madrid a weakened third. The victory cemented an Eclipse for Go for Wand, who proved how special she was at age 3 before her tragic death in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Sense of Style had to overcome a poor start, but this hardly hurt her as much as Balletto was compromised by checking several times in between runners. Sense of Style settled in last and moved up clearly on the outside without incident to get the lead entering the stretch. Meanwhile, Balletto, who showed tactical speed on the inside, was looking for a seam to open but was forced to check repeatedly. Once clear, Balletto came charging up the rail late, while Sense of Style was already home free. Balletto's turn of foot was evident near the wire, where she outfinished a game Play With Fire for second, finishing only a length behind Sense of Style.

Sense of Style and Balletto are clearly the top 2-year-old fillies, and both are bred to get better at longer distances. It is uncertain at this time if either will contest the Frizette Stakes before their ultimate showdown in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Weak Futurity Stakes

Traditionally, the Grade 1 Futurity has been one of the world's great races for 2-year-olds, but this year's renewal came up very weak. Today's racing landscape has changed dramatically, with many more racetracks offering lucrative alternatives for top runners. While that has made an abundance of stakes available to owners and breeders, it has caused havoc for racing, diluting races such as the Futurity.

The field was so questionable that the overhyped Fusaichi Rock Star (Wild Wonder) was installed as the favorite. While Bob Baffert had a very successful Saturday at Belmont, winning the Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap with Senor Swinger and the Jerome Handicap with Teton Forest, Fusaichi Rock Star was exposed as a false favorite in the Futurity.

Fusaichi Rock Star must have looked like Secretariat at the Fasig-Tipton 2-year-olds in training sale last February, because his $825,000 purchase price is at odds with his very common pedigree. Winner of a slow maiden race in his second start at Del Mar (he closed his final eighth in a painfully slow seven seconds), Fusaichi Rock Star flashed brilliant workouts after that race and was the public choice because of his high-profile trainer. Fusaichi Rock Star faded badly in the stretch after being part of the pace and should return to allowance races.

In a wide-open affair, Park Avenue Ball took command in midstretch and defeated Wallstreet Scandal and Evil Minister. Park Avenue Ball won a maiden race for New Jersey-breds on July 15 and the Tyro Stakes on July 31, and finished second in the Sapling Stakes behind Evil Minister on Aug. 28 in his start before the Futurity. By the speed influence Citidancer (a stakes-placed half-brother to stakes winners Will's Way, Willa on the Move, and Lady Reiko), Park Avenue Ball is out of the Cahill Road mare Road to the Ball. This is a pedigree suited for 1 1/16 miles, but not much more.

Wallstreet Scandal looks to have a nice future. Making just his second start after winning his maiden debut at Saratoga on Aug. 16, he was conceding experience to his rivals, but put in a good run to be second. By the solid sire Mt. Livermore, he descends from a classy C.T. Chenery female line. His fifth dam, Orissa, was inbred to the great Hildene (the dam of First Landing and Hill Prince).

Evil Minister, who won the Sapling Stakes at 24-1 in his previous start, finished third but looked green in the stretch. A son of Deputy Minister, who died Sept. 10 at age 25, this colt still has more upside.

But none of the Futurity runners looked like they should pose any problems for Roman Ruler, Declan's Moon, Afleet Alex (who may have distance limitations), or any other late-blooming colts in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.