05/19/2006 12:00AM

Action heats up outside Triple Crown

Vassar Photography
Charmo (center), here beating Aragorn (right) in the San Francisco Mile.

PHOENIX - One of the best things about the Triple Crown is the ripple effect it causes throughout racing. Not only are we inspired by the likes of Barbaro and Brother Derek and Co. knocking heads, but it also gets our pulse racing about the other divisions.

So while the dust settles from Saturday's Preakness and the promise of more fireworks in the Belmont coming three weeks hence, there are other confrontations that should have fans salivating.

Met Mile - This race at Belmont is only eight days away, and as usual it is coming up great. Bandini hasn't raced since early April, when he won the Grade 3 Skip Away at Gulfstream without drawing a deep breath. He hadn't even pulled up before trainer Todd Pletcher was saying the Met Mile was on his radar.

At least three others figure to make it sticky for him. Silver Train, last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint hero, has been pointing specifically for this race, as well. Mass Media didn't really fire when he finished fourth in the Grade 1 Carter last month, but that was his first start since last fall, and this race has been his target. Last November, he was second in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile.

But the biggest hurdle may be Love of Money, a very fast horse who has hinted at big-time ability but finished sixth, beaten 26 1/2 lengths, in last year's Met Mile. His strong runner-up effort in the Grade 3 Westchester at Belmont opening day last month indicated he's back and feeling good.

Shoemaker Mile - The West Coast turf mile contingent has shown remarkable depth and ability. Eight horses finished within a length or so of each other in the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita in early March, with Milk It Mick narrowly prevailing. Milk It Mick will apparently miss the Shoemaker, a one-mile turf race May 29, but the race still looks strong. Charmo was devastating when he won Golden Gate's San Francisco Mile. His trainer, Julio Canani, said Charmo is as good as Val Royal, a Canani-trained horse who won the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Aragorn was a gallant second to Charmo in the San Francisco Mile. He beat Charmo in the Kilroe. Sunday Silence was a great racehorse, but may have been an even better sire, and his Japanese-bred son Silent Name powered home to beat some of the division's best in the Grade 2 Arcadia at Santa Anita. Chinese Dragon, who went through a bit of a funk last year, looks every bit back on track, topped by a sterling second in the Kilroe Mile.

Can it get any tougher? Well, yes. Willow O Wisp showed a ton of promise as a 3-year-old last year, but then came a trip to Hong Kong in the winter. He ran poorly and, perhaps feeling the effects of the trip, was quite dull in his first two outings this year. However, a return to Hollywood Park, his favorite course, was just what the doctor ordered. Willow O Wisp wired a good group in the Grade 3 Inglewood in his last start April 29. He now has six victories, including three on the Hollywood turf in four attempts.

Toss in Diamond Green, a European hotshot who impressively won an allowance race at Hollywood recently, and you have the makings of a race that comes as close to a BC Mile renewal as you can get.

Manhattan - The Grade 1 Manhattan, a 1 1/4-mile turf race to be run Belmont Day, June 10, has all the makings of a phenomenal race. English Channel, by virtue of his Grade 1 Woodford Reserve win on the Kentucky Derby undercard, planted himself at the top of the division, with Woodford Reserve runner-up Cacique on his heels. Both are eyeing the Manhattan. King's Drama, a stakes winner on both coasts, may also go after skipping last week's Grade 2 Jim Murray at Hollywood Park. Relaxed Gesture, last year's Grade 1 Canadian International hero, may show up, too.

The most intriguing entrant, however, will be Grey Swallow, the devastating winner of the Jim Murray. Grey Swallow didn't just win the Murray, he obliterated the opposition, showing the European form that has resulted in Group 1 victories in the Irish Derby and the Tattersalls Gold Cup, in which he defeated Arc winner Bago, BC Turf runner-up Ace, and the BC Turf third, Azamour.