Salute to the ‘Officer’

Aug 7, 2001 4:48 AM

Every generation or so, a Dr. Fager comes along, a thoroughbred who can do it all — win at any distance, on any surface and carrying tons of weight. In a pre-inflation era, from 1966-68, Dr. Fager won 18 of 22 career starts, with two seconds and one third. He earned $1,002,642.

Truth be known, Dr. Fager came along too soon for his own good. When he was in his heyday, hype hadn’t caught up with him. Now, in this age of short attention span sensations, it’s far too late for Dr. Fager to receive the recognition he deserves.

On rare occasions, a young horse will exhibit talent that conjures up memories of champions such as Dr. Fager and Ruffian, horses with sensational speed, captivating courage and faultless form.

Officer won his first start by six lengths at Hollywood Park on July 6. In his next start, the Graduation Stakes at Del Mar on July 25, he won by eight.

That certainly doesn’t put him in a league with Dr. Fager, but after Officer’s maiden victory, his trainer, Bob Baffert, was quoted as saying he was the best 2-year-old he ever had. Considering he has trained the likes of Kentucky Derby winners Silver Charm and Real Quiet, and current Preakness and Belmont champion Point Given, that was saying something.

Turns out Baffert is hedging these days, inferring that he was misquoted.

“He’s not the best 2-year-old I’ve ever had,” Baffert said after spending a day at the beach at Del Mar, where he is well on his way to winning his fifth consecutive training title. “I’d say he’s one of the best. But at this stage, he’s been just as good as the top ones I’ve had here. I’d say he’s one of the best I’ve brought to Del Mar, the way he’s acting.”

The Thoroughbred Corp. of Prince Ahmed Salman and partners, paid $700,000 for Officer at the Barretts 2-year-old in-training sales. “He was beautiful, he worked very fast and he was efficient,” Baffert explained when asked what he saw in Officer.

Officer, a son of Bertrando bred in California by Mr. and Mrs. Martin Wygod, is a dark bay colt with only two 5 1/2-furlong dashes under his belt. While his potential is unlimited, he has much to prove.

“Until he wins in open company, then you can start bragging on him,” Baffert said. “He’s beaten up on a bunch of Cal-breds and maidens so far. He beat up on some pretty so-so horses, even though he won with authority.”

Officer is scheduled to make his next start in the $150,000 Best Pal Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs on Wednesday, Aug. 15. His sire, Bertrando, finished second behind $269.20 winner Arcangues in the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Classic at 1 1/4 miles, so down the road, distance should not pose a serious deterrent for Officer.

“You don’t know until you do it,” Baffert said. “And that’s a long ways off.”

Still, the way he has left rivals in his wake in his first two races, this Officer is no gentlemen.

And he may not turn out to be a Dr. Fager, but it’s nice to dream.

THE HOMESTRETCH: Bobby Frankel, already is loaded with high-quality stock, will receive a few more monsters at Del Mar this week, among them 4-year-old colts Shibboleth and Beat Hollow, the beaten favorite in the Epsom Derby. Both are owned by Frankel’s principal client, Juddmonte Farms, and were previously trained by Henry Cecil overseas. On whether San Diego Handicap winner Skimming can defend his crown and get the added 3/16ths of a mile in the Aug. 19 Pacific Classic, Frankel was confident and slightly annoyed. “Did it pose any problem last year?,” he asked. “Why would people ask questions like that when he’s done it already? I don’t care how much other speed there is in the race. He gets the distance.” In addition to Skimming, Futural and Captain Steve, the first three San Diego finishers, other Classic probables include Dixie Dot Com, Guided Tour, Redattore and Smile Again. Baffert was non-committal on whether the 1 1/4-mile Classic distance will improve Captain Steve’s chances. “We’ve got to get him back in the groove,” Baffert said of the Dubai World Cup winner, who was a non-threatening third behind Skimming in the 1 1/16-mile San Diego . . . John Amerman, whose Lido Palace upset Albert the Great in the Whitney, says his Chilean import, Printempts, was not quite ready for the Clement L. Hirsch Handicap at 1 1/16 miles last Sunday. “She only had two six-furlong works before the race,” said the former Mattel Toys mogul. “We’ll get her fit first, then look for a race.” Frankel says Lido Palace will make his next start “someplace at Belmont.” A likely spot is the $500,000 Woodward on Sept. 8.