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SEPTEMBER 14, 2009

by Vance Hanson

With the November 7 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) being held over the Santa Anita Pro-Ride for the second consecutive year, it makes sense to kick things off with an examination of the Southern California scene. Two of the top three finishers in last year's Juvenile, including the winning Midshipman (Unbridled's Song), did all of their prep work in the region. Indeed, last year was a continuation of a trend established in years when the Breeders' Cup was held on Santa Anita's old dirt track. California-based runners also occupied two of the top three slots in the Juvenile in 1986, 1993 and 2003.

California: The present frame of reference for California juveniles is LOOKIN AT LUCKY (Smart Strike), who swept Del Mar's two biggest divisional races, the Best Pal S. (G2) and Del Mar Futurity (G1). The bay is a half-brother to multiple Grade 2 winner Kensei (Mr. Greeley) and hails from the family of multi-surface threat and champion Wait a While. While Lookin at Lucky hasn't won by dominating margins, he looked every bit the winner in both stakes scores and trainer Bob Baffert is confident the colt will continue to improve. He had to overcome a bit of adversity in the Del Mar Futurity when taken further off the pace than usual by jockey Garrett Gomez, but that was mostly a function of breaking from post 1 out of the chute. Lookin at Lucky made a bold middle move along the rail rounding the far turn and split rivals late to win in good style.

The next port of call for Lookin at Lucky is the 1 1/16-mile Norfolk S. (G1) at Santa Anita on October 4, and we don't see any reason why he shouldn't stretch out successfully.

MAKE MUSIC FOR ME (Bernstein), a close second in both the Best Pal and Del Mar Futurity, will also likely contest the Norfolk. Trained by Alexis Barba, the colt closed well in those outings and acted like he could have used additional ground, particularly in the Futurity. Though still a maiden, he appears far too good to take a conservative approach with, at least for now.

Another juvenile that turned heads during the Del Mar season was SIDNEY'S CANDY (Candy Ride [Arg]), who rebounded from a head loss in his debut early in the meet to romp home by four lengths in an August 22 maiden, setting a new 5 1/2-furlong track record of 1:02.71. The Futurity came up a bit soon for Sidney's Candy to make a quick turnaround, but trainer John Sadler will surely try to have the colt peak later rather than sooner.

Sidney's Candy lost his debut to TINY WOODS, a son of 2004 Norfolk winner Roman Ruler. Tiny Woods, whose dam is a half-sister to the multiple Grade 1-winning juvenile Toccet, was shipped east to compete in the August 20 Saratoga Special S. (G2) following that first-out score, but tired badly to seventh as the 5-2 favorite. Jockey Mike Smith reported the colt wasn't breathing well during the race, and we'll be interested to see how the Baffert pupil does when he returns to action.

New York: While the East Coast-based juveniles might arguably be the preferred place to search for next year's classic hopefuls, they are relegated to second here because of concerns many trainers have about shipping their best colts across the country to run over Pro-Ride, a surface they probably won't have to worry about ever again. Vineyard Haven (Lido Palace [Chi]), the best New York-based two-year-old last year, did not ship west for the Breeders' Cup, and it would not be a surprise to see another leading juvenile or two take a pass this season.

D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of the exciting DUBLIN (Afleet Alex), is at best taking a wait-and-see approach with his Hopeful S. (G1) winner, who will now likely point for the October 10 Champagne S. (G1). Aside from missing out on a potential Eclipse Award, there might arguably be little incentive for a horse like Dublin to ship to California, instead of staying home to continue preparations for next year over his surface of preference.

Dublin did not finish all that strongly in the Hopeful, running his final furlong in approximately :13 2/5 and completing seven furlongs in 1:23 2/5, but at least he beat his 11 rivals the right way. Overcoming an early stumble, the chestnut quickly secured position in midpack, made a four-wide bid around the far turn, and drove home a two-length winner despite showing green behavior in midstretch. Deep closers rallied to take the other big prizes. Most notably, Saratoga debut winner ASPIRE (Tale of the Cat) finished 1 1/2 lengths clear in second and Bashford Manor S. (G3) and Sanford S. (G2) winner BACKTALK (Smarty Jones) made a wide bid to be fourth.

One colt who did not wheel back in the Hopeful was D' FUNNYBONE (D'wildcat), who annihilated his Saratoga Special foes in winning by 10 1/2 lengths. A debut winner at Calder in May, D' Funnybone was privately purchased by Paul Pompa Jr. (Big Brown's original owner) following a second-place effort in the Frank Gomez Memorial over the same course in July. While possessing more of a sprinter's pedigree, the now-Richard Dutrow charge could have a very bright future with more efforts like this.

Other New Yorkers of note are BULLS AND BEARS (Holy Bull), who won at first asking at Belmont on July 2 and then endured a horrible trip when fifth to Backtalk in the Sanford S., and BULLDOGGER (Dixie Union), who cruised by 6 1/2 lengths when winning at first asking in the slop on August 29. All three are nominated to Saturday's Futurity S. (G2) at seven furlongs.

Elsewhere: One colt who was flattered by D' Funnybone's romp in the Saratoga Special was JACKSON BEND (Hear No Evil), who defeated that rival by a half-length in the Frank Gomez Memorial. The chestnut has reeled off two more wins since then in the Dr. Fager and Affirmed divisions of the Florida Stallion S. series, and will be looking for a sweep when he tries the October 17 In Reality division.

Another with three stakes wins to his credit is WESTERN SMOKE (Smoke Glacken), who romped in minor events at Prairie Meadows and Charles Town before taking the September 5 Sapling S. (G3) at Monmouth Park, fending off NOT MACHO ANY MORE (Macho Uno) by 1 3/4 lengths. While Western Smoke seems more likely to excel at sprints, the runner-up, who bypassed the Hopeful in favor of the Sapling, might do more damage the further he goes.

There hasn't been a lot of activity in this country in advance of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G2), but INTERACTIF (Broken Vow) looks like a solid early favorite among the American contingent after demolishing his rivals in the September 4 With Anticipation S. (G3) by 4 1/4 lengths. The Todd Pletcher trainee was making his first start on grass under Kent Desormeaux and turned in one of the best efforts by any juvenile, regardless of surface, during the Spa season.

Looking ahead: In our next installment, in addition to breaking down the results of the Norfolk, we should have a better idea about who will be making the trek west for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile after the final major preps in New York and Kentucky. The form in Kentucky will be of particular importance given the synthetic composition of Keeneland's main track. And though eventual Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mine That Bird (Birdstone) did not perform well in last year's Juvenile, we'll also keep an eye out for any potential Canadian invaders, who will have had synthetic form from Woodbine.

We should also have a better idea about which European-based two-year-olds will be coming over for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, a race won last year by the England-based gelding Donativum (GB) (Cadeaux Genereux), and who will fly the flag for the United States and Canada following major preps at Belmont Park, Keeneland and Woodbine.


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