06/04/2002 11:00PM

Acorn begins powerhouse weekend


ELMONT, N.Y. - An outstanding weekend of racing in New York gets under way Friday with the $250,000 Acorn Mile for 3-year-old fillies.

Bella Bellucci, an impressive seven-length winner of the Comely Mile in her last start, looks like the one to beat. She has won four of five starts for owner Michael Tabor, who with his Coolmore partners has put together a world-class stable.

Tabor bought Bella Bellucci, a French Deputy filly, at the Fasig-Tipton sale at Calder for $925,000, and she has never disappointed, accelerating consistently in her stretch run. She is treated appreciatively by trainer Neil Drysdale, who gives her plenty of time between races, producing a fresh horse, eager to do her best.

The Acorn attracts the cream of the division each spring, and this renewal is no exception. Allen Jerkens appears to have a good one in Dust Me Off, the Bonnie Miss winner at Gulfstream. Proper Gamble, who won three consecutive stakes for Stoneway Farm, including the Beaumont at Keeneland last month, continues to train well for Todd Pletcher.

But You, the Santa Anita Oaks winner, is probably the most formidable of rivals for Bella Bellucci. She disappointed in the Kentucky Oaks, but her trainer, Bob Frankel, thinks the nine furlongs was too much for her at that time. Frankel is pleased with the way she has done in recent weeks and feels she will be considerably more effective in the Acorn, a mile with only one turn.

Frankel, who had a number of spectacular weekends during his remarkable 2001 campaign, is not without assets for Saturday's Belmont Stakes as well. Medaglia d'Oro, a game fourth in the Derby, did not fare as well in the Preakness. The trainer is inclined to fault the strategy at Pimlico, where Medaglia d'Oro was placed just off a lively pace.

"I think he wants to settle in stride before he is asked to run," Frankel said. "He was into the bridle early in the Preakness. We'll give him more time in the Belmont and it could make a big difference."

Stevens knows Belmont well

In recent years no rider has had as much success in the Belmont as Gary Stevens. He rode three of the last seven winners, including Thunder Gulch, Victory Gallop, and last year's awesome hero, Point Given, whose margin was 12 1/4 lengths.

"It's been my experience that if you don't have a horse who can get the mile and a half you're in trouble," Stevens said. "I've been fortunate in that respect. Thunder Gulch and Victory Gallop loved the distance, and Point Given was simply much the best. His margin surprised me."

There was another horse who got the trip but didn't win, to Stevens's deep regret. That was Silver Charm, who was bidding for the Triple Crown in 1997 when he was upset by Touch Gold.

"Silver Charm had put away Free House," he recalled, "and felt the race was over. Chris McCarron was riding Touch Gold and kept up the pressure. He knew my horse had a tendency to ease himself, and he brought Touch Gold down the middle of the track to win. Silver Charm didn't see him until it was too late."

Stevens considers Belmont Park to be the fairest track in the United States because of its size and the sweep of its turns. He says there is rarely reason for a horse to get into trouble there.

He cautions that there is still a lot to do at Belmont after a horse turns for home.

"If you haven't saved something," he noted, "Big Sandy can get you."