2-year-old More Than Ready making all the right moves

On Horse Racing

August 29, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- He's being compared to Easy Goer, Affirmed and Secretariat. Remember this name: More Than Ready.

The 2-year-old colt has won his first five races, broken a track record in the process and blasted to the top of everyone's list of prospective Kentucky Derby and Preakness favorites for 2000. He has even been mentioned as a candidate for 1999 Horse of the Year.

More Than Ready, a Southern Halo colt out of the Woodman mare Woodman's Girl, races Saturday in the Grade I $200,000 Hopeful Stakes here at Saratoga.

"He's figured the game out quickly," said his trainer, Todd Pletcher, a former assistant to D. Wayne Lukas. "He's a very efficient mover. He kind of glides over the ground.

"He's just got that natural instinct. He likes to run. He likes to win. That sort of stuff you can't teach. He likes to run -- fast."

After winning his first start April 11 by 7 1/2 lengths at Keeneland, the colt reeled off four stakes victories, with all five against other juveniles. His most recent win, a 9 3/4-length romp July 29 in the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, prompted speculation that despite being a 2-year-old, More Than Ready could garner support for Horse of the Year.

His schedule after the Hopeful calls for starts Oct. 9 in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park and Nov. 6 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Gulfstream Park.

"I think Favorite Trick being Horse of the Year hurts our chances of being Horse of the Year," Pletcher said. "Favorite Trick was penalized for not being as good a 3-year-old as he was a 2-year-old.

"But if we were 8-for-8, and the older horses keep beating each other, you might think we'd have a shot."

Favorite Trick won his eight races in 1997, concluding his 2-year-old season with a smashing win in the Breeders' Cup. He sewed up Horse of the Year when no older horses, including Skip Away, clearly proved their dominance. But at 3, Favorite Trick didn't turn into the next Secretariat, the only other 2-year-old voted Horse of the Year.

Pletcher said he's trying not to become consumed by the hype surrounding More Than Ready. He's trying to map a campaign, take it one race at a time and hope that good fortune smiles upon him and his spectacular colt.

"I'm trying not to pay too much attention to all the comparisons," Pletcher said. "But he impresses me every time he runs. Every time I think he can't run any better, but the next time he goes out and does."

Speed rules

Two races before the Travers, Forestry and Five Star Day waged a spectacular speed duel in the seven-furlong King's Bishop Stakes, the most competitive sprint of the year.

After Five Star Day set sizzling fractions of 21 3/5 seconds for a quarter-mile and 43 2/5 seconds for a half-mile, Forestry claimed the lead after three-quarters mile and drew off to a 1 1/2-length victory in 1 minute, 21 seconds. That was a stakes record and two-fifths second off the track record. Forestry's time for six furlongs, 1 minute, 7 3/5 seconds, was two-fifths second faster than the six-furlong mark.

"That was world-class speed we just saw today," said Bob Baffert, trainer of Forestry.

Baffert bid $1.5 million for Forestry at the 1997 July yearling sale at Keeneland -- the first time he'd bid $1 million or more for a horse. Baffert bought the Storm Cat colt for Aaron U. Jones, owner of an Oregon lumber company.

"The way he ran today, I might point him to the Breeders' Cup Sprint," Baffert said.

As the 8-5 favorite in the Grade I $200,000 stakes, Forestry, ridden by Chris Antley, paid $5.50 to win. Lightly raced Five Star Day held second, and Successful Appeal, ridden by Edgar Prado, claimed third.

Yes It's True, winner of the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park, appeared to take a bad step entering the turn and was eased down the stretch. He finished last.

Comic Strip no joke

In the Grade III $150,000 Fourstardave Handicap, the race before the Travers, Comic Strip exploded from the back of the pack and soared wide to prevail by 2 1/2 lengths on soft Saratoga turf. His time for 1 1/16 miles was 1: 41 3/5.

As the 6-1 fourth choice, the Neil Howard-trained Comic Strip paid $14 to win. The 42-1 Divide and Conquer sneaked through on the rail for second. Bomfim finished third. The exacta paid $404, the trifecta $2,704.

Et cetera

Intrigued, the outstanding 3-year-old filly, suffered a potentially career-ending tendon injury during a recent jog at Saratoga. Her trainer, Laurel-based Jimmy Murphy, said she hurt herself wheeling from an approaching horse. Asked whether he would consider riding Prado, Bill Mott, one of the country's top trainers, said: "I've tried to name him on a couple, but I couldn't get him."

Last Sunday at Monmouth Park, John J. Tammaro and his son John J. Tammaro III (the latter is based at Laurel Park) ran horses in the same race, the $75,000 Rumson Stakes, for the first time in their long training careers. The father's Alannan finished first, the son's Red Press second. Red Press charged wide in the stretch, threatening the leader, Alannan.

"I knew it was his horse," the son said, smiling. "I wanted to nail him right at the wire."

Gato Del Sol, winner of the 1982 Kentucky Derby, arrived yesterday at Stone Farm in Kentucky. Staci and Arthur B. Hancock III, owners of the farm, bought the 20-year-old horse, a Stone Farm homebred, back from his German owners so he could live out his years in his old paddock. The Hancocks wanted to ensure that Gato didn't meet the same fate as Exceller: a European slaughterhouse.

Lukas says La Salle Street is being prepared for a fall debut at Belmont Park. The Maryland-bred son of Not For Love and Three Grand sold for $2 million in April at Keeneland, tying the world record for a 2-year-old sold at auction.

"He's such a big powerful horse, and we've got so much invested in him, we're taking it a little cautiously," Lukas said.

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