Hot Officer at Belmont, seeks 5th win

West Coast 2-year-old runs in Champagne today

October 06, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The Champagne at Belmont Park is this country's oldest stakes for 2-year-olds. It was first run in 1867 at Long Island's Jerome Park, original home of the Belmont Stakes.

Today, the oldest stakes may produce racing's newest star, a sparkling 2-year-old colt named Officer. Trained and owned by the same folks who brought you Point Given, Officer is poised to replace the retired Point Given at racing's forefront.

Officer's appearance in the $500,000 Champagne - his first in the East after four scorching victories in California - highlights an outstanding arrayof races at Long Island's Belmont Park, site in three weeks of the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. The Champagne is one four Grade I and one Grade II stakes at Belmont that serve as final auditions for the Breeders' Cup.

Bob Baffert, who trains Officer, calls him the most precocious 2-year-old he's ever managed. And in recent years, Baffert, the country's leading trainer by earnings, has managed some of the sports' best young horses.

"I've got Officer to carry the torch now," said Baffert, whose Point Given suffered a career-ending tendon injury after winning the Preakness, Belmont, Haskell and Travers. "He's got it all. He does everything effortlessly. He's just a fast horse.

"He's got a great name, too. I think a lot of people are going to be pulling for him. With Point Given gone, he's my new hope."

Officer is racing's new hope, too, although racing continually puts hope in stars destined for premature fadeout because of injury or early retirement.

With victories today and Oct. 27 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Officer would become the most ballyhooed, early Kentucky Derby favorite in years. He is a California-bred son of Bertrando, champion older horse in 1993.

The rest of Belmont's stakes program could be the Bobby Frankel show. The planet's hottest trainer, Frankel has won 34 stakes this year, 11 of them Grade I's.

"When things aren't going your way, you think twice - three times, four times - about what you're going to do with a horse," said Frankel, a New Yorker based in California. "Right now, I'm just thinking once, and it's happening."

He will saddle Aptitude and Sumitas in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup, the scintillating Flute in the $750,000 Beldame for fillies and mares, and You in the $500,000 Frizette for 2-year-old fillies. In the only stakes not a Grade I, Frankel will start Blu Air Force in the Grade II, $250,000 Kelso.

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