While most eyes were rightly on the Baron of Belmont Park yesterday, as he rolled to a dominating score in the Suburban Handicap, I also found great interest in a trio of good looking three-year-olds who may look back at July 6 as a turning point in their young careers.
First came Touchofstarquality. A grand looking son of Horse of the Year, Mineshaft, he did not exactly come out of the gate smoothly in his career debut, but that is all the Jay Em Ess Stable runner would do wrong in the day’s second race. Unhurried early, Touchofstarquality got back into the one-mile race down on the inside under Javier Castellano. As the field moved towards the stretch, he moved into contention as he angled out for the drive home. With a good looking second-time starter named Silver and Onions seemingly in command of the race, Touchofstarquality set sail to run him down.
Leveling off like a horse of far greater experience, the first-timer was able to collar the heavy favorite late and power right on by for an impressive 1 ¼ victory. The rest of the field was nowhere to be found at the finish. While the 1:36.26 final time was nothing too special on the fast main surface yesterday, the way he won speaks clearly of his potential to be a future star. As a son of Mineshaft, out of a Red Ransom mare, the thought is that this Michelle Nevin trained youngster will only get better with added distance.
Touchofquality was not the only impressive maiden winner on Saturday. Four races later marked the return of Mentor Cane. First seen on the pages of HRN in advance of his career debut thanks to the talented eyes of Donald Harris, the son of Mizzen Mast has always been a horse who flashed talent in the mornings. The problem seemed to be his brain had not caught up to his speed in his juvenile season. Following a promising second to the very talented Flashback in both colt’s career debuts, Mentor Cane’s speed and his ability to run a straight course were a little hard to handle as he tired badly to finish a well beaten third at Santa Anita in his second start. Ever patient trainer, John Shirreffs, gave him some time to figure it all out.
“The first time out he ran impressively, just got beat,” said Shirreffs. “The second time was a wet-fast track and he was a little green. He was a little immature, and as soon as the gate opened he heard the sound of the horses’ feet, and he bolted to the rail and he ran through the bit and was a little out of control. We had to take our time with him, stand him in the gate, and teach him to relax and be a bit ratable.”
Mission accomplished if yesterday’s maiden effort was any indication. Right off the early lead, Mentor Cane quickly drew on even terms with Perfect Danger, and then right on by through a blazing half in :44.66. Always looking like the stronger of the pair, he put away that opponent on the turn, before running unchallenged down the lane for an impressive five-length score. Making the victory all the more intriguing was the excellent final time of 1:15.26 for the 6 ½ panels, and the way winning rider, Edgar Prado seemed to ask so little of his mount.
While the speed of the Jerry and Ann Moss homebred is undeniable, his veteran trainer believes a bump up in distance is far from out of the question for Mentor Cane. One way or another, his next start should come at Saratoga, according to Shirreffs.
Last, but certainly not least, came Moreno in the Dwyer Stakes. Unlike the two colts before him, Moreno (pictured above) is not an inexperienced colt, but with a lifetime record of 0-for-9 a month ago, his career seemed to be going nowhere fast.
Enter a change of scenery, and continued improvement after being gelded four starts back, and the son of Ghostzapper is a whole new and exciting racehorse. Tipping fans that something good might be on the horizon for the Eric Guillot trained gelding, Moreno dominated a Belmont Stakes Day maiden event to the tune of a 6 ¼ length score in his first start on the East Coast. Going wire-to-wire that day, he looked like a nice horse, but he took things up a notch yesterday.
Quickly getting over a little bump at the beginning, the Southern Equine Stable runner went right after the lead, with no one else in the field willing to test his early speed. Maintaining a working, but not sizable, margin in front, the 5-1 fourth choice rattled off a moderate first quarter in 24.21. With each successive furlong he looked stronger as the fractional times of 47.36, 1:10.99, 1:34.86, would attest. By the time the field hit the stretch, it was clear that there would be no catching Moreno on this day. Reaching the wire in a strong 1:41.07 for the 8 ½ furlongs, he won the Grade 2 Dwyer by seven full lengths under a smart ride by Jose Ortiz.
From maiden to graded stakes winner in less than one month is no easy jump, but Moreno made it look easy. Easy enough to make you believe that the day’s other late bloomers, Touchofstarquality and Mentor Cane might to be able to do much the same.