07/25/2004 11:00PM

Who's who among Spa 2-year-olds

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Even with the elimination of two stakes races this year, the heart and soul of the Saratoga meet remains the 2-year-old division.

On any given day, a potential star is born. The day after the 2003 Travers, in races run 66 minutes apart, The Cliff's Edge and Friends Lake won their maidens. This year, The Cliff's Edge won the Blue Grass Stakes and Friends Lake won the Florida Derby, and both competed in the Kentucky Derby. Other notables who earned their first victory here last summer were Birdstone, this year's Belmont Stakes winner, as well as eventual graded stakes winners Eurosilver, Pollard's Vision, Purge, Read the Footnotes, Saratoga County, and Silver Wagon.

Ashado, a filly, and Cuvee scored stakes victories at Saratoga that established them as among the best of their generation in 2003.

This year, the New York Racing Association eliminated the Saratoga Special for colts and the Adirondack for fillies in hopes of strengthening the other juvenile stakes. The Spinaway and Hopeful have been moved from their traditional closing-weekend positions to the fourth week (Aug. 20-21). The Schuylerville, for

fillies, and the Sanford, for colts, will be run the first and second day of the meet, as usual.

Racing secretary Mike Lakow felt the number of stakes for 2-year-olds at this meet hurt the overall program in New York. As evidence, he pointed to the fact the Spinaway was dropped from a Grade 1 to a Grade 2, as was the Futurity, a race for colts run at Belmont in the fall.

"We felt it was because we had too many stakes back to back," Lakow said. "We want to strengthen our races so we didn't lose the Grade 1's. It may not show in one year, it may not show in two years, but in time more may not be better."

Wednesday's Grade 2, $150,000 Schuylerville drew 11 juvenile fillies, the largest field in that race since 1996. In the Schuylerville, Broadway Gold and Darn That Girl - two of New York's precocious babies - will meet mid-Atlantic-based runners Wild Chick, Dressed for Succes, and Partners Due, as well as Kentucky runners Classic Elegance, Lady Dynasty, and Angel Trumpet.

Thursday's Sanford for juvenile colts is also expected to draw a large field, led by the multiple stakes winner Lunarpal.

Todd Pletcher, who won a dozen 2-year-old races here last summer, is loaded once again. He won six baby races at Belmont and he hardly tapped into his wide array of talented runners. One juvenile he is high on, Malheur, is in Wednesday's fifth race. Malheur is a son of Saint Ballado. Pletcher won the past two Schuylervilles with progeny of Saint Ballado.

Pletcher will run Flamenco, who is 2 for 2, in the Sanford. His other firsters to watch for include Landslide, a full brother to Saratoga debut winner Surfside, and More Than Somewhat, a half-brother to Preakness winner Prairie Bayou.

Though Pletcher does not have a runner in the Schuylerville, he hopes to participate in the Spinaway. One filly he thinks could be top quality is Summer Raven, who finished fourth to Dream Time in what may have been the best maiden race run at Belmont during the spring. Ready's Gal and Lemon Lady are other Pletcher fillies to tab.

Any success trainer D. Wayne Lukas has at this meet will come mostly from his 2-year-old crop. He has a chance to start quickly with Shark entered in Wednesday's fifth. Shark, the first foal out of the multiple Grade 1 winner Surfside, ran second in his debut at Churchill and gets Lasix for this race. Consolidator was beaten a neck by undefeated Lunarpal in the Kentucky Breeders' Cup before coming back to win his maiden impressively. He will run in the Sanford. Keep an eye on the entries for Silent Bid, Storied Cat, and Thunder Ridge.

Each summer, some trainer whom handicappers don't expect comes up with a strong group of babies. Nick Zito and Rick Violette shared that billing last year. In Zito's case, it was the fact so many of his babies won early that caught most players off guard.

Zito said he is not sure he will be as successful with firsters this summer, but did say he is high on a Maria's Mon filly named Graceful Nancy. Also, Colts Highgrove and Sun King have each had three breezes and are likely to run at this meet.

Violette, who went 4 for 9 here last summer, has already won races with promising fillies Darn That Girl and Accretion. He has an unnamed Jules colt that he's looking forward to running at the Spa.

One candidate for this year's surprisingly successful 2-year-old trainer is Bobby Frankel. Though Frankel has enjoyed wild success the last three summers at the Spa, his only 2-year-old winner was You, who won a stakes here after being purchased privately.

This spring, Frankel has had 2-year-olds training at Saratoga all spring. Frankel will send out Wing Kai in Wednesday's opener. Sir Halory, a half-brother to Halory Hunter, and Vitruvian, a half-brother to Denon, are other Frankel babies to watch. John Amerman, one of Frankel's owners, just purchased a European-based 2-year-old named Kfar Daniel, who could run here on the grass.

Stanley Hough, the trainer of Broadway Gold, usually unveils a good-looking 2-year-old at the Spa. This year's leading candidate is Al Johnstan, who Hough said should run in the second half of the meet.

Patrick Biancone has gone 3 for 9 with his debuting 2-year-olds the last three meets. He especially likes Cheqhov, a son of Pulpit who cost $3.3 million at auction earlier this year, and Scipion, a three-quarter brother to champion 2-year-old Vindication.

Trainer Steve Asmussen has already won stakes with Lunarpal (4 for 4) and Primal Storm (2 for 3), but has plenty more where those came from. He declined to name any of his 2-year-old maidens, but he said, "If I don't win a couple of 2-year-old maiden races in each division, I would be surprised." He may get started Wednesday with Royal Movement, a full brother to Heavyweight Champ, in the fifth.

Dale Romans is another Kentucky-based trainer with a barn full of 2-year-olds. He's looking forward to running Scott's Cat, a colt, and Nives, a filly, at this meet.