A toast to newest stars
Who's the most exciting horse in the country? Which horse puts the bubbles in your champagne, makes you think of Captain Nemo's submarine, plays xylophone trills on your spine and reminds you of the first time you cupped a lightning bug in your hands? Well, she could be racing Saturday.
This is an exciting moment for the sport as it approaches its championship event, next month's Breeders' Cup, but only because there are so many compelling horses. If one could be singled out as the queen of the quickened pulse, that one might be the unbeaten champion Awesome Feather. In the recent Nasty Storm Stakes at Belmont, she stalked a rapid pace and then rolled through the stretch as if down a hill, atomizing all threats, winning by more than 11 lengths and encouraging announcer Tom Durkin into rapturous description. "She's a perfect 10," he said, and she is, with earnings of $1.9 million. On the Wow Meter, that performance ranked up there with the discovery of the Higgs boson.
Or maybe the most exciting horse is My Miss Aurelia, the other unbeaten champion, who won the Cotillion Stakes with talent and willpower, the force of her volition inching her ahead of Questing in the final strides. Or perhaps the honor belongs to Game On Dude, especially when he's out there on the lead and has hit that brilliant rhythm, like Django Reinhardt in "Minor Swing." But if you prefer a green backdrop, Point Of Entry is your guy. The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic was his fourth consecutive graded stakes victory. Graded stakes have become his potato chips; he can't stop devouring them. And he seems to improve each time he steps onto the track, so that the excitement derives in part from not knowing, yet anticipating, just how good and overwhelming he might become.
The Saratoga season seemed to be decorated, if not dominated, by an endless procession of Pletcher juveniles
Dreaming Of Julia has won her two races by a total of nearly 27 lengths. In the Meadow Star Stakes, her most recent exercise in domination, she closely stalked a moderate pace before taking control in 46.33 seconds for the opening half-mile. She ran the next quarter-mile in 24.73 to close the door on any impudence, and then, under moderate encouragement, she pranced home, winning by more than 16 lengths.
A daughter of Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, she's out of Dream Rush, who won half her starts while earning nearly $800,000 and winning both the Test and the Prioress. How good is Dreaming Of Julia? That's what's so exciting: We have yet to find out. But the Frizette should prove interesting with My Happy Face, a 21-length winner at Saratoga, in the field. Dreaming Of Julia will have to catch the speedster if she's to win and add to the excitement.
Saturday's Champagne Stakes at Belmont is also rife with exciting horses who have implied they have some sparkling potential in the cellar. Shanghai Bobby, for example, is unbeaten in three races, his most recent victory, by nearly four lengths, coming in the seven-furlong Hopeful at Saratoga. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, said he was especially pleased with the way the colt rated in the Hopeful and was content to track the leaders before advancing in the stretch.
"The fact he successfully got seven furlongs," Pletcher said, "and wasn't desperate doing it was a good indication that a one-turn mile [the Champagne distance] should be well within his scope."
The Saratoga season, which ended in early September, seemed to be decorated, if not dominated, by an endless procession of Pletcher juveniles, 22 of them (one of them twice), in fact, marching into the winner's circle. Remarkably, he won 25.27 percent of all the races at Saratoga for 2-year-olds. And the procession has continued at Belmont Park. Last week, Pletcher won the Futurity with Overanalyze and the Matron with Kauai Katie.
And in addition to Shanghai Bobby, he has entered two flashy maiden winners, Archwarrior and Micromanage, in the Champagne. Archwarrior, whose debut was probably the most anticipated of the season, stalked a lively pace and then powered clear with a final quarter-mile in 24.97. Micromanage ran the final three furlongs in 36.19 to win his seven-furlong debut by five lengths. And so somebody will exit the Champagne as one of the most exciting young horses in the country.
But let it be known that last week, the most exciting horse in the land was Executiveprivilege, the unbeaten filly from the Bob Baffert barn who won the unfortunately named Chandelier Stakes at Santa Anita by more than six lengths, and she did it in hand, with nary a hair turned nor a deep breath taken. Although her final time for the 1 1/16 miles (1:44.95) was slower than Power Broker's winning time (1:44.44) in the Frontrunner Stakes, she actually finished faster. She and Dreaming of Julia are converging on the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, a race that's sure to play xylophone trills up the spine and rattle the Wow Meter.
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