Sky Mesa takes Lane's End by four lengths.

Sky Mesa takes Lane's End by four lengths.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Keeneland race Report (Cont.)

Off the Bench

Beat Hollow has been the best turf runner in America this year, conquering grade I tests like the Arlington Million, Manhattan, and Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. But as the Bobby Frankel trainee moved back and forth in distance trying to find his niche for the Breeders' Cup, there remained a lingering feeling that a European invasion was on the way that would make the Beatles look like pikers.

Rock of Gibraltar has been the 1,200-pound gorilla of the Turf across the ocean, and his impending presence in the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) caused Frankel to go for the $600,000 pot in the Shadwell Keeneland Turf Mile (gr. IT) Oct. 6, in the words of Janis Joplin, to get it while you can. But the best-laid plans were foiled by Landseer, a second-tier runner out of Aidan O'Brien's dugout who had run a pair of close-up seconds to his famous stablemate in the past year.

Balto Star, dangerous on the front end, grabbed a quick lead, but not an easy one, as Grammarian and North East Bound went for early runs up the backstretch. Jerry Bailey had Beat Hollow in fine position fourth, followed by Landseer and the late-running Touch of the Blues, a stakes winner on this course last spring. Grammarian held the advantage until the turn for home, when Beat Hollow got to the front. His best turn of foot wasn't in evidence, however, as Landseer under Prado wore him down to get the nod in 1:35.55. Touch of the Blues came flying at the leader late, missing by a neck, with Beat Hollow third.

Mick Mohoney, an assistant to O'Brien who saddled the winner, handled the post-race hubbub like an old pro. "Landseer has been overshadowed by Rock of Gibraltar, and that's understandable. But he's always been a serious horse from day one in Ballydoyle. He's a genuine group I horse. We were hopeful for a good run and it came off. I'd have to say that, all being well, he'd have to go to the Breeders' Cup."

Mohoney noted that Landseer, a son of Danehill out of a Miswaki mare, was affected by the virus that swept through O'Brien's ranks earlier this year, and is only now coming back from his rest in good shape. The Keeneland run was his second since returning, the first being a 13th-place finish over heavy ground at Haydock. Owned by Michael Tabor and Sue Magnier, Landseer was on his way back to Europe the day after his win. His victory left him a few dollars short of millionaire status, which he hopes to remedy in Chicago. He was bred in Great Britain by Rockwell Bloodstock.

Frankel noted Beat Hollow might prefer to be rated farther back in the pack and make one late run. "When he got in trouble in the Eddie Read, he got out and exploded. He didn't have that explosiveness today. It's better if he doesn't make the lead too soon." Frankel said Beat Hollow was still on course for the Breeders' Cup.

Sky Goes to School
Only five showed up to take a shot at Sky Mesa in the $434,800 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (gr. II) for 2-year-olds Oct. 5. The son of Pulpit displayed why discretion is the better part of valor as he cruised to a four-length coronation, conquering two turns for the first time, going 1:46.78 for the 1 1/16 miles.

Trainer John Ward Jr. noted Sky Mesa, making only his third start, has some growing up to do, and he hopes the Keeneland experience will provide the book-learning necessary to graduate in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) three weeks down the road.

"He made every mistake a young horse can make and still got it done," Ward said. "Down the backstretch he relaxed too much and the air went out of him. He's used to training here, but today he came down the stretch and started looking around and wondering why there were 20,000 people in his grandstand. This was a good education, and he'll learn from it."

Sky Mesa and Prado settled into a tracking position behind Bob Baffert's Truckle Feature, and the 3-10 favorite looked comfortable. The only anxious moment came on the second turn, when Prado began scrubbing on his mount with no immediate response. Finally the ears pricked up and Sky Mesa found his next gear, defeating the late-running Lone Star Sky, who nosed Truckle Feature for second.

John Oxley, who teamed with Ward to win the 2001 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) with Monarchos, paid $750,000 for Sky Mesa out of the 2001 Keeneland September yearling sale. He was bred in Kentucky by Harbor View Farm.

On the heels of Monarchos/Point Given and Booklet/War Emblem, the Juvenile is shaping up as another duel between white-maned trainers Ward and Baffert, who will bring Vindication in for the festivities. "I have my horse to train and Bob has his," Ward said, taking a step back from the war of words of the past. "We don't mind sparring, but it got overdone at the Preakness (gr. I), and I don't need to get into boosting television ratings." This matchup should do all the talking on its own.


(Chart, Equibase)