By Robert Knolhoff Jr.
Walk down the Belmont shedrow of Scotty Schulhofer and stop in front of the stall of Exogenous. You will instantly be greeted with a long, dark-eyed glance, one that is instantly inviting but which barely conceals a mischievous streak. "Go ahead, she's perfect around this time of day," promises George Martens, her morning work companion. "She still loves to play and kick around in that stall, but she's grown up right before our eyes, and this is the best time of the year for a horse to get good." The gray filly of whom Martens speaks needed not only to be good leading up to the Oct. 6 Beldame (gr. I), but resilient as well. First, an infection in her right leg a week prior so affected her limb, "My first reaction was that she bowed," said Schulhofer's son Randy. "But she was the perfect patient and with some medication, we brought the leg back to normal." Once healed, the Centaur Farm homebred was entered among a superb field of eight, and even after winning the $750,000 fixture on the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) program by a commanding 1 1/4 lengths, the Schulhofer team had to sweat out a prolonged stewards' inquiry after their filly ducked in twice in midstretch beneath Javier Castellano. Only then did the lean daughter of Unbridled earn her second grade I and place her name beside runner-up Flute in the 3-year-old filly championship portrait. Those fortunate enough to visit Belmont Park this fall have been blessed by the presence of several fillies of exquisite virtue. As subway artists citywide soothe the ears of a city still in need of immense healing with the notes of affirming hymns of peace, the remaining senses have been treated to these breathtaking ladies. It started with world traveler Ela Athena's final Dahlia-like effort in the Man o' War (gr. IT), and has continued through the star turn of Exogenous, a work in progress over the past two seasons, but at present a masterpiece awaiting completion. "She's long and lanky, just like I remember her sire at an early age," said Hall of Famer Scotty Schulhofer. "We've put in the time for her with an acupuncturist to heal her back, added blinkers when we all agreed she needed them, and, of course, we gave her plenty of time to mature. I just need to remind Javier to never hit on her right side again." Headlining the Beldame were distaffers possessing a similar appeal. Favored was Flute, whose sweet disposition and Eclipse-caliber talent has melted the heart of her hard-boiled trainer Bobby Frankel. Additionally, there was 6-year-old Beautiful Pleasure, whose relationship with mentor Donna Ward has come to epitomize the symbiotic rapport between human and Thoroughbred. Castellano guided Exogenous to the outside early beside Spain and Flute as Beautiful Pleasure gained her rightful place up front, and beneath the restraint of Jorge Chavez and into a weekend-long headwind on the backstretch proceeded with splits of :23.64, :47.01, and 1:11.24. The champion mare commenced her accentuating habit of drifting wide on the turn, and metaphorically passed the baton to a trio of younger stars before safely completing the course of her career finale. Already in a drive, Spain and Victor Espinoza swung wide, Flute and Jerry Bailey took an inside path, while farther back Castellano sought a winning rhythm with long-striding Exogenous. Once he did, the pair cruised just ahead, but after Castellano's initial right-handed taps, Exogenous drifted over to Spain once, and moments later again, as Castellano diligently sought to straighten course. It was the latter swerve that prompted the stewards' review. Based on both the winner's convincing finish, in 1:49.20, and Espinoza's frank admission "the winner deserved to stay up," Exogenous' blinking number was left alone. Flute remained second ahead of Spain, and while reticent about the decision, their trainers, Frankel and D. Wayne Lukas, respectively, focused more on the Beldame's virtue as a step to the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I). Exogenous is on the same path. "We'll breeze her two more times and just keep her fit and happy," said Randy Schulhofer. "She's picked up so much on her own to reach where she is now." YOUTH IS SERVEDRenewals of the Frizette and Champagne Stakes--each grade I at 1 1/16 miles, each offering a cool half-million and a world of historical significance--both figured to spell out the same conclusion. Each winner would be pronounced both a Breeders' Cup and juvenile divisional champion in waiting. First up were the fillies, and the first of the Frankel Express' two grade I wins on the afternoon, with a bouncy yet thoroughly mature filly named You, a daughter of the Frankel-trained You and I owned by Edmund Gann. In what might have been a rematch from a memorable Saratoga meeting, Cashier's Dream and You were again alone near the lead. The former appeared strong, in fact, beneath Donnie Meche, and after a second quarter in :22:97 even darted away from You. Then, atop a filly with a splash of white down the center of a dark, gorgeous profile, Edgar Prado signaled the Frizette's turning point with a quick peek behind on the far turn. With a polished extension belying her inexperience beyond 6 1/2 furlongs, You strode clear by 3 1/2 at the eighth pole and cruised home 6 1/4 lengths clear over Cashier's Dream, with Riskaverse along for third, 9 1/4 1engths farther back. You completed the route in a solid 1:43.94. "I wanted to take a nice long hold of her and let her do it her way," revealed Prado. "On the turn, I wanted to see who was behind so I wouldn't ask her too soon. Near the finish, she was moving her ears forward and back and looking around for a little company. I'd have to think she'll be just as good in three weeks time." Next up was Officer, and the only fitting segue from the California-bred's much ballyhooed arrival from the West Coast and Bob Baffert's overflowing adoration of his latest prized student was the precise race Officer ran in the Champagne--one of supreme confidence and ridiculous ease. Reinforcing his trainer's heaping praise, The Thoroughbred Corp.'s Officer glowed beneath the brisk, sun-ripened New York sky--his sleek, bay coat appeared seamless, and his developing physique showed remarkable dimension. Then, over 8 1/2 furlongs in the 130th Champagne, Victor Espinoza was merely a passenger, keeping watch on Heavyweight Champ after a half in :46.44 before Officer took control with the long, round strides evoking his sire, Bertrando. The margin of victory was 3 3/4 lengths ahead of Jump Start, and the final time of 1:43.39 barely eclipsed that of You, but Espinoza was literally begging Officer from finishing any faster. "He's the total package," gushed Baffert. "The only time I ever set him down was before we ran him. I told his rider, Dana Barnes, to work him a good half-mile, and he gallops out in :58 2/5. Sure, it was tough enough to retire Point Given, but racing fans are always looking for that next superstar, and there is nothing as exciting as having a good 2-year-old in the barn. He is something special. He could be the one." Joining the legends of past Champagnes, including Secretariat and Devil's Bag, Officer heads into the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) undefeated--and as of yet, untested--in five starts. Continued...
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