06/01/2005 11:00PM

Acorn can yield a division force

Benoit & Associates
Splendid Blended, here winning her most recent start, the Dec. 19 Hollywood Starlet, is the only Grade 1 winner in the six-filly Acorn.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Even with the absence of Summerly and Sis City, the leaders of the 3-year-old filly division, Saturday's $250,000 Acorn features a strong lineup, and its winner will likely have an impact on the divisional rankings.

Six entered the 75th running of the Grade 1 at Belmont Park. In recent years, the one-mile Acorn was run the day before the Belmont Stakes. With the Belmont Stakes falling late on the calendar this year, June 11, the Acorn was moved up, which allows for three weeks to the Mother Goose and another four weeks to the Coaching Club American Oaks, the two other major stakes for 3-year-old fillies at the meeting.

With the exception of In the Gold, who finished second to Summerly in the Kentucky Oaks, each of the Acorn runners is coming off a victory. It's a tough call as to who will be the favorite.

Splendid Blended, who has not run since winning the Hollywood Starlet on Dec. 19, is the sole Grade 1 winner in the field. Splendid Blended's only loss came at the hands of last year's 2-year-old champion filly, Sweet Catomine.

Trainer Neil Drysdale, who won the Acorn in 1980 with Bold 'N Determined, said Splendid Blended has trained well for her return.

"She has been training very forwardly," Drysdale said.

As a 2-year-old, Splendid Blended was a bit rank in her races. Drysdale, who trains Splendid Blended for her breeder, Peter Vegso, said she has become more settled.

"She's very relaxed," Drysdale said. "She's filled out and strengthened and has matured all around."

Breaking from post 5 with Jerry Bailey up, Splendid Blended will likely be part of the early pace scenario.

Seek a Star, another with early speed, has won her last three starts, including the Grade 2 La Troienne at Churchill Downs on May 5. John Ward, who trains Seek a Star, said one of the things he likes about the filly is that she is quick early and possesses a strong finishing kick.

"She gets the early fractions and finishes. That's a nice commodity," said Ward, who won the Acorn four years ago with Forest Secrets.

Jorge Chavez rides Seek a Star from post 2.

In the Gold could cap a memorable week for trainer Nick Zito, who was inducted into racing's Hall of Fame on Tuesday.

Zito, who won the Acorn two years ago with Bird Town, was pleased with In the Gold's two-length loss to Summerly in the Kentucky Oaks. In the Gold finished 2 1/2 lengths in front of Sis City, the favorite.

"Great effort," Zito said. "Around the turn I thought we could win but then [Summerly] rebroke. It's amazing. You beat Sis City and you don't win."

Round Pond, trained by John Servis, has the perfect style to sit behind the speed and pounce, like she did while winning her last three starts by a combined margin of 18 1/4 lengths, including a 4 1/2-length victory in the Grade 2 Fantasy at Oaklawn.

New York-bred Seeking the Ante won the seven-furlong Nassau County Breeders' Cup here on May 7. She didn't beat a particularly tough field, but did earn a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 91, a 13-point jump from her previous start, when she finished second in the Grade 2 Comely.

John Kimmel, Seeking the Ante's trainer, thinks the Acorn distance is to her advantage. "Seven-eighths is too short for her," Kimmel said. "She's a filly that settles nicely and likes to run into a pace."

Mike Luzzi will ride Seeking the Ante from post 4.

Smuggler, trained by Shug McGaughey, will have a difficult time emulating the performance of her mother, Inside Information, who won the 1994 Acorn by 11 lengths. Smuggler makes her graded stakes debut in the Acorn after easily winning a second-level allowance race here last month. It was her first race since early December.

"I hadn't pounded on her for her first race back," McGaughey said. "I think she'll move up."

- additional reporting by David Grening

The field

Purse: $250,000; 1 mile; Grade 1

1Round PondS. Elliott2-1
2Seek a StarJ.Chavez6-1
3In the GoldR. Bejarano5-2
4Seeking the AnteM. Luzzi20-1
5Splendid BlendedJ. Bailey9-5
6SmugglerJ. Velazquez6-1

* All starters carry 121 pounds
* Odds by Art Gropper