10/16/2006 12:00AM

You can pin a star on this colt's stall

After a rough early start in the Champagne, Nobiz Like Shobiz (2) runs a game second to Scat Daddy.

NEW YORK – There was finally a respite Saturday from the sense of ennui that has surrounded this year's 2-year-old division, and it came in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. And no, the relief was not provided by Champagne winner Scat Daddy. Instead, it was runner-up Nobiz Like Shobiz, who shook his division out of the doldrums, at least momentarily.

After the Champagne, people were talking almost as much about Nobiz Like Shobiz as they were Scat Daddy. That was the case even though Scat Daddy had not only just won a major prep for the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but also had provided trainer Todd Pletcher with his 93rd stakes victory of 2006, enabling Pletcher to break trainer D. Wayne Lukas's 19-year-old record. But in this instance, all the attention given Nobiz Like Shobiz was merited. Thanks to some sharp reporting and well-chosen replay angles by ESPN on its national telecast, the whole racing world got to see that Nobiz Like Shobiz ran a race and a half in the Champagne.

In his first start since a ridiculously easy win over maidens in his career debut last month, Nobiz Like Shobiz became the meat in an equine sandwich when he was badly squeezed back coming out of the gate, knocking him back to next to last of 10 in the early stages. After then steadying slightly a couple of times as he was advancing up the rail down the backstretch, Nobiz Like Shobiz tried to win the Champagne anyway by making a sudden move late on the far turn at pacesetter Pegasus Wind. And though in the end Nobiz Like Shobiz couldn't fight off Scat Daddy's grinding rally in the clear on the outside, fight back he did.

The fact that Nobiz Like Shobiz was even in the Champagne, and that he is still considered a prospect for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, will tell you a lot about how his trainer, Barclay Tagg, feels about him. Tagg has his own special definition of conservative, and if you doubt that, consider his handling of Showing Up, whose impressive victory in the Jamaica Breeders’ Cup the race before the Champagne cemented his status as the best 3-year-old turf male in the nation. Tagg turned his back on the opportunity to go for a huge bonus with Showing Up earlier in the year when he declined to run him in the Virginia Derby off three weeks of rest. And last week, Tagg removed Showing Up from consideration for both the Breeders' Cup Turf and Breeders' Cup Mile, even though Showing Up would have more of a right than a lot of other horses to compete in either race. So the approach Tagg is taking with Nobiz Like Shobiz just adds to the sense that this colt is a special prospect.

As for Scat Daddy, his win in the Champagne improved his career mark to a solid three wins from four starts, and he deserves some credit for being good enough to capitalize on Nobiz Like Shobiz's trouble. At the same time, the fact that it was Scat Daddy who won Saturday seemed to add to the unsettled nature of his division in a Breeders' Cup context, Nobiz Like Shobiz aside. When Scat Daddy finished second in the Hopeful Stakes in his only loss, it is true he did not have the best of trips. Nevertheless, Scat Daddy was absolutely crushed in that race by barnmate Circular Quay. But Circular Quay followed with an uninspiring second in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. Was Circular Quay simply flat that day? Was he exposed in his first attempt around two turns? Did Breeders' Futurity winner Great Hunter suddenly blossom? Or after finishing second to just about everyone out West, did Great Hunter strike a blow for the comparative quality of the California-based 2-year-olds? Unfortunately, no one really knows, because the fact that the Breeders' Futurity was run on Polytrack really clouds the issue.

Don't despair over 2-year-old males

If all the uncertainty over the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile bothers you, or you are concerned for the quality of the 3-year-olds we will all follow next year on the Triple Crown trail, it is best right now to take a longer view. It is important to remember that this year we were blessed with not one, not two, but three sensational colts in one 3-year-old crop in Bernardini, Discreet Cat, and Barbaro. And none of them was anywhere near last year's Juvenile.

Besides, this group of 2-year-old males look like superstars when compared with their filly counterparts east of California. In the 2-year-old filly division this year, the Adirondack Stakes was won with a Beyer Speed Figure of only 71, the Spinaway was won with a Beyer of 83, the Arlington-Washington Breeders’ Cup Lassie was won with a Beyer of 72, and the Alcibiades was won with a Beyer of 81. But as slow as those races were, they were fast compared to Saturday's Frizette at Belmont.

Although the Frizette's early pace was considerably quicker than the Champagne's (22.62 seconds and 45.81 as compared with 24 flat and 47.78) that does still not excuse the Frizette's painfully slow final quarter-mile of 28.19. As a result, Sutra's winning Frizette Beyer was 68, which has to be some sort of record. It is difficult to imagine that since Beyer Speed Figures first became available to the public over 15 years ago, there has ever been a lower winning figure in a Grade 1 stakes race.