Sports

Juvenile race a shot at stardom for Aikenite

AIKEN - Every piece of the puzzle, from physical development and temperament to performance in training and races, suggests a potential bonanza.

The answer comes Saturday.

Aikenite, a 2-year-old colt, will carry the green and gold silks of Aiken's Dogwood Stable in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and the 11/16th-mile race over Santa Anita's synthetic surface is more than just another day at the track.

"The biggest deal," Dogwood president Cot Campbell says in looking toward the world series of thoroughbred racing. "Almost every good horse in America and Europe will be there."

Win, and Aikenite will beprominently mentioned in every 2010 Kentucky Derby discussion. Win, and his value - over $1 million, more than four times his $225,000 purchase price - will soar. Win, and his name will spread the word of his stable's hometown throughout the nation.

"You never know what will happen in a race, but we have a lot of confidence in him," Campbell says. "He has a fabulous temperament. He travels well. He is an obliging, likeable kind of guy. He's coming up to the race just right. He's on schedule, the distance is good, and he and the rider (Alan Garcia) fit each other well."

Campbell is not alone in liking Aikenite's possibilities.

"With top efforts on dirt and synthetic and a strong and consistent closing punch, he should be rolling late in the BC Juvenile," Steve Haskin writes in The Bloodhorse. ". . . Watch out for this one."

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Campbell's quest for quality thoroughbreds at modest prices never ends, and he liked what he saw at a sale of 2-year-olds in February. The colt he would name Aikenite burned up the track in a quarter-mile workout.

"I think everyone is rather flabbergasted I got him for that ($225,000 price)," Campbell says.

Aikenite won his first race, then stepped into top competition. He ran third in the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga and second in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland.

"I would have loved to have won at Keeneland, but I thought, 'God Almighty, this is a superb race horse,'" Campbell says. "This horse took the overland route and worked through a tremendous field of 14 horses. He was ninth at one time, and the rider put him in overdrive at the half-mile pole. He kept grinding away and was eating them up at the end."

Keeneland has a device that measures how far each horse actually runs, and Aikenite ran 13 more feet than the winner, Noble's Promise.

"He ran further and lost by two, three feet," Campbell says. "Another three or four jumps, and he wins. We feel he has a lot going for him."

If he needed more evidence of the colt's potential, the agent for champion jockey John Velazquez provided it by calling to ask if his client could ride the horse.

Trainer Todd Pletcher worked Aikenite on Monday at Belmont, and the colt clicked off five furlongs is a fraction over one minute, second fastest time of 22 horses at that distance.

"He is not usually an overzealous work horse, but this morning he was more focused than usual," Pletcher told the Daily Racing Form.

Another piece of the puzzle fits nicely.

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Dogwood has been looking for a quality prospect to represent the stable's hometown, and this colt fulfilled the requirements. The name recognition for the city of Aiken could be enormous.

"I will bet the Chamber of Commerce, with all its advertising and promotion, could not come close to making the visual impression this horse's name will have made by the time newspapers and radio and television feature his name," Campbell says. "(Reporters) don't even have to say it; it will prompt questions: What does this name mean?

"The name is a nice plug for Aiken, and the community can get together and pull for a horse with its name. It's a crisp name to say; it sounds good. You will remember that name."

Indeed, the name will take a place in racing lore - if he wins.

"There are no guarantees," Campbell says.

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Campbell introduced the practice of syndicating horses to the racing world, a practice that allowed more people to be involved in ownership. Despite the downturn in the economy, he said Dogwood has sold all its shares and did not feel a negative impact until late this summer.

Aikenite leads a promising crop of 2-year-olds, and one of the most heralded, Brother Bird, ran once before being sidelined with an injury.

Campbell paid $485,000, far more than his normal price, for Brother Bird, half-brother of 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, and waits to see if that investment pays big dividends.

"We bought him two days after the Preakness," he says. "I thought Mind That Bird ran well enough to win the Preakness, which told me the Derby was not a fluke. The Preakness stamped Mine That Bird as an authentic race horse.

"Brother Bird had been kind of a clown until he ran his first race. He was different after that and had a good work before he had some soreness, and we have given him 60 days off. He and Aikenite will come back (to Aiken) in November for the winter, then get ready to run next year."

Meanwhile, Aikenite has a date Saturday with some of the nation's top 2-year-olds.

"I look at all the horses I buy as good prospects and think if things go well, he could be a good race horse," Campbell says. "Some work out, some don't. I thought Aikenite had the ingredients because of his looks and his pedigree. He has been business-like and wants to get on with the program.

"The thing is, predicting how horses will develop is like trying to pick a professional football team from 10-year-old kids. Some take your breath away throughout their careers. Some start fast and peak out. Some klutzes develop. Some never do. They fall all over themselves, then maturity sets in and they look like (Florida quarterback Tim) Tebow."

For the moment, Aikenite belongs with the ones that deliver overpowering performances. After Saturday, Campbell will have a pretty good idea if he has a Tim Tebow in his stable - or not.

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