08/09/2007 11:00PM

You'll be hearing more from this Best Pal trio


PHOENIX - It seems the West is always a little late unveiling its top juveniles. Of course, that may be more a function of the calendar than anything else. After all, you have Keeneland and Churchill in the spring, and then Belmont is a customary launching pad for promising runners. And you're always going to see budding stars erupt at Saratoga, like Maimonides there Wednesday.

The tradition of early star power among juveniles out West really isn't there. Hollywood is a good starting point, but over the years West Coast horsemen have usually waited for Del Mar, or even Oak Tree.

Perhaps the first important juvenile race out West comes Sunday at Del Mar in the Grade 2 Best Pal at 6o1/2 furlongs.

The Best Pal has a six-horse field - expected to scratch down to five - that is full of promise.

Salute the Sarge and Leonides, separated by just a nostril in the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile, take another step in their rivalry. You also have Georgie Boy, easy winner of the Graduation on July 25, which proved he likes Del Mar's Polytrack surface. Toss in Sky Cape and Mix and you have a nice little field. Slam Slew, a most impressive maiden winner June 30, would likely have been the favorite here, but trainer Richard Mandella said Friday the colt is coughing and will be scratched.

Salute the Sarge, trained by Eric Guillot, is a perfect 2 for 2. He was asked to do some hard work to win the July 4 Hollywood Juvenile. He blew the start but still rallied to nip Leonides.

The sire of Salute the Sarge, Forest Wildcat was a sprinter, and he has produced the good horses Chatain, Snow Dance, Attila's Storm and Forest Secrets. But it's Salute the Sarge's bottom side that is the most intriguing. He's kin to the stakes winner Mymich, who has earned $287,000, and to the 3-year-old Chelokee, who won the Grade 3 Northern Dancer and the Barbaro, and has earned more than $350,000.

Leonides, by crack sprinter-miler Richter Scale, rallied strongly to win his debut and when he just missed against Salute the Sarge in the Hollywood Juvenile.

"I was very happy with our horse," trainer Vladimir Cerin said. "We only had 18 days between races, and I couldn't really do enough with him to prepare him for the race. He was a little green out of the gate and during the race, but he almost got there. The winner ran super, and he just outfinished him."

Like the winner, Leonides was in bit of trouble early and made a strong run in the lane. He had the lead, but just got nailed on the line by Salute the Sarge. The two ended up well clear of third finisher Whatever Whenever, who promptly came back to win. Two local works indicate Leonides handles the Del Mar track.

Georgie Boy finished third when Leonides won his June 16 debut. Time and again this meet we've seen the importance of liking the Del Mar track. Well, unlike Salute the Sarge and Leonides, Georgie Boy has won over it. He's already shown versatility, showing good speed when second at Hollywood July 7 and then rallying strongly to take the Graduation for his first win. His Beyers continue on an upward pattern as well.

Regardless of the outcome here, this trio represents a promising bunch, and a nice little rivalry could be in the cards.