11/22/2004 1:00AM

Wildcat Heir's win triumph of timing

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NEW YORK - Taking nothing away from Wildcat Heir, but it is fair to question whether his upset victory in Saturday's Grade 1 De Francis Dash at Pimlico was more a function of several horses who finished behind him not running their best rather than any sort of breakthrough on his part.

Here is something that handicappers should instinctively think about at this time of year: We are in the waning days of a long racing year and many horses, from top stakes horses down to bottom claimers, are simply out of gas. This is one reason why the recently improved Dreadnaught was such an attractive betting proposition in Saturday's Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct, and a factor that might well have affected the outcome of the De Francis.

The main reason to believe that the end-of-season wobbles impacted the De Francis result is Wildcat Heir outran a couple of horses he was outrun by without a solid excuse early last month in the Phoenix Breeders' Cup at Keeneland. Champali finished a little more than a length in front of Wildcat Heir when he won the Phoenix, and Clock Stopper finished a neck in front of him for third. Moreover, for varying reasons, both ran substantially better races than Wildcat Heir did that day. But on Saturday, Champali never ran a step and was beaten more than eight lengths finishing eighth, and Clock Stopper, with his now-patented too little, too late rally, was never a threat to catch the winner, finishing third.

Ben Perkins Jr., the trainer of Wildcat Heir, deserves credit. He made the decision to pass the Breeders' Cup Sprint with Wildcat Heir, a comparatively fresh horse, happy to await whoever would wheel back in the De Francis off the Sprint. Of course, his choice was made a lot easier with the certainty that Wildcat Heir would have been deep on the also-eligible list of an oversubscribed Sprint once Breeders' Cup pre-entries were taken.

Champali, Clock Stopper, and Midas Eyes - who closed gamely to be second Saturday - all came out of the Breeders' Cup Sprint. It is highly plausible that the effectiveness of each was compromised after performing in such a huge race only three weeks earlier.

There is one other piece of evidence for this line of thinking. Wildcat Heir earned a 110 Beyer Speed Figure for his loss in the Phoenix. But to win on Saturday, he had to run fast enough to receive a Beyer of only 109.

Declan's Moon struts his stuff

Two of the more interesting races over the weekend were for 2-year-olds, Saturday's Hollywood Prevue at Hollywood Park, and the Laurel Futurity on the De Francis undercard at Pimlico.

Declan's Moon ran very well winning the Prevue, scoring by two lengths to remain undefeated while clearly doing less than his best. Declan's Moon earned a Beyer of 97, which he is a mortal lock to improve on when he races back on Dec. 18 in the Hollywood Futurity. That race may very well decide the 2-year-old male championship, if, that is, upset Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Wilko and Champagne Stakes winner Proud Accolade still have the appetite to start after what Declan's Moon showed them Saturday.

Defer, who was decidedly best in the Laurel Futurity, is still a large notch below the most accomplished of his contemporaries because he has yet to run fast. The modest 78 Beyer he received Saturday was the best so far in his three-race career. But, Defer has a regal pedigree, being by Danzig, from Hidden Reserve, who is a half-sister to champion Inside Information and a full-sister to the top-class Educated Risk. That, plus being in the hands of trainer Shug McGaughey, makes Defer a strong bet to improve. Tempering the enthusiasm, however, is her pile-driver-like, punishing, pounding action, which was the trademark of the offspring of so many Danzigs.

Champs at 2, chumps at 3

Last week, I commented on how poorly our recent 2-year-old male champions have done as 3-year-olds. The last to do anything truly meaningful at 3 was 1994 2-year-old champ Timber Country, who came back to win the 1995 Preakness and never raced again. But, that doesn't really illustrate how pathetic our recent 2-year-old male champions have been at 3.

Action This Day has gone 0 for 4 this year. Vindication never raced after 2. Johannesburg went 0 for 3. Macho Uno went 1 for 4, the win coming against a filly in the Grade 3 Pennsylvania Derby. Anees went 0 for 3. Answer Lively went 0 for 7. Boston Harbor went 0 for 1. Maria's Mon went 0 for 2. In fact, if it wasn't for Favorite Trick, who went 4 for 8 at 3, including victories in two Grade 2 races and one Grade 3, the combined 3-year-old record for recent 2-year-old male champs would be beyond miserable. As it is, 8 of our last 9 2-year-old male champs have a combined 3-year-old record of 1 for 24.

Boy, is that something to be proud of.