09/07/2006 11:00PM

West's pecking order now clear

Horse Greeley impressively wins Wednesday's Del Mar Futurity, establishing himself as the leading 2-year-old male on the West Coast.

PHOENIX - One of the most fascinating - and often stupefying - aspects of summer racing is the rapid acceleration up the ladder by 2-year-olds. Maidens one minute, stakes winners the next, maybe champions right after that.

Last week's results of the two juvenile championship races of the Del Mar meet have provided some focus to the 2-year-old picture, at least out West. Point Ashley and Horse Greeley were impressive in capturing the Del Mar Debutante and Del Mar Futurity, respectively, not only establishing themselves at or near the top of the West Coast pecking order, but also on the national scene. How that plays out in the next couple of months in the Oak Leaf, Norfolk, and Breeders' Cup remains to be seen. But closer examination of each is required.

Point Ashley: She displayed talent in her first two outings, but also a tendency for a bit of speed-craziness, which was a bit surprising as she is a daughter of 3-year-old champion and stamina source Point Given. Trainer Bob Baffert took the blinkers off for the Sept. 4 Debutante and not only did he get an improved run, but the manner in which it was accomplished had to leave Baffert smiling.

Point Ashley broke alertly in the seven-furlong race but allowed jockey Victor Espinoza to take her back off a sizzling pace (21.25, 44.17 seconds). It paid dividends. Not only did she show patience and that she could take dirt in the face, but she also showed she could blast home as she roared by the leaders to win easily by 2 1/2 lengths. The Debutante was her second straight 91 Beyer and there's no doubt she's queen of the West. The division in the East is still up for grabs, but there's every reason to believe Point Ashley will be mighty scary come Churchill Downs and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies the first Saturday in November.

There's pedigree here, too. As mentioned, she's by Point Given, who put together one of the greatest 3-year-old seasons ever, though it came without a win in the Kentucky Derby. Still, his offspring have acted like their dad - more comfortable as the furlongs add up. There's also talent on the dam's side, as Point Ashley is a half-sister to Raw Gold, a multiple graded stakes winner who won nine races and $509,006.

Horse Greeley: We all know trainer Dick Mandella is a master of the undersell. If he walked outside in the middle of the day and you asked him if that was the sun up in the sky, he'd have to think about it for a minute, then say that it likely was.

So, when we started hearing a couple of months ago how Mandella had this potential monster in his barn named Horse Greeley, we immediately took notice, and as usual with Mandella, his assessment was spot on.

Horse Greeley is a big, powerful animal, and his win in the Sept. 6 Futurity stamped him the best in the West, at least while Baffert's E Z Warrior is out nursing an injury. Scat Daddy and Circular Quay have proved their dominance in the East, and Horse Greeley took advantage of his chance to make a statement of his own.

A smidge slow into stride, his speed carried him right up to contest the pace. Horse Greeley dispatched the other speed, put his head down, and drove for home, just as favored Great Hunter was moving on the outside. Horse Greeley showed ample heart, never allowing Great Hunter to get to him. In fact, he was edging away at the wire for a second straight win and a 92 Beyer.

This race has produced the last two juvenile champions - Declan's Moon and Stevie Wonderboy - yet inexplicably it has Grade 2 status. That figures to change next year, and Horse Greeley can help push that line of thinking along.

Mandella certainly knows what it takes to win Breeders' Cup races, having won with juveniles Halfbridled, Phone Chatter, and Action This Day. He also trained top juvenile Afternoon Deelites.

Horse Greeley may be by Mr. Greeley, a sprinter, but there is stamina on his dam's side. Not only was Chile Chatte, a solid two-turn horse and a four-time winner of more than $317,000 with five stakes placings, but all three of her other foals to race are winners.

Yes, the Todd Pletcher Express (he trains both Scat Daddy and Circular Quay) looks formidable for the BC Juvenile, but Mandella has never been one to push his youngsters into the deep end unless they are more than ready. Last Wednesday, Horse Greeley proved he was.

Great Hunter deserves honorable mention. Although he could only finish second in the Futurity, I'm still quite high on him, particularly once he gets to go beyond a mile. He has the style of a grinder, and being by top-class router Aptitude he figures to find his best stride when allowed to go a distance.