09/03/2004 12:00AM

All eyes on Scipion in Cradle Stakes

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River Downs officials are proud that their signature event, the $200,000 Cradle Stakes, is the first noteworthy two-turn race for 2-year-olds each season. Some trainers can hardly wait to see how their horses will handle the extra distance, and this year that includes Patrick Biancone, who has the Cradle favorite, Scipion.

Biancone, who will be in Cincinnati on Monday for the 28th running of the Grade 3 Cradle, said Scipion seems to have such an innate desire for distance that the trainer wanted to run the colt around two turns right away.

"I really did not even want to run him short, but he was ready to run, so I did," said Biancone.

The results were spectacular. Scipion made one of the most eye-catching moves of the current Saratoga meet, rallying from last in the upper stretch to win a seven-furlong maiden race on Aug. 14. That lone career start should be enough to make Scipion the one to beat in the 1 1/16-mile Cradle.

"We have had high hopes on him since the day he was born," said Biancone. "He is a lovely horse. I thought maybe he would win first time out, even though he is crying for two turns. I am very happy with him, and I think this race Monday is a good race to go in."

Scipion was ridden in his debut by Javier Castellano but will be ridden Monday by Edgar Prado, whom Biancone often employs in major races. Scipion was scheduled to travel by charter flight Sunday from Saratoga to a private farm in Kentucky, then ship to River by van early Monday.

Scipion, bred and owned by Virginia Kraft Payson, drew post 1 in a field of eight entered Friday in the Cradle. His main challengers figure to be Bellamy Road (post 2) and Diamond Isle (post 5), both of whom earned 81 Beyer Speed Figures in their respective maiden wins. Scipion earned a 65.

Bellamy Road, trained by Michael Dickinson, won his first and only start on Aug. 3 at Delaware Park. Diamond Isle won his second and most recent start on July 5 at Churchill Downs for trainer Ken McPeek.

From the rail, with jockeys, this is the Cradle field: Scipion, Prado; Bellamy Road, Abel Castellano Jr.; Copy My Notes, John McKee; Quick Blend, Angela Owens; Diamond Isle, Brice Blanc; Capwikann, Nate Solomon; Cat Tourn, Danny Coa; and Flyrock, Jeff Johnston.

The Cradle is carded as the 13th of 16 races on a Saturday program that also includes interspersed simulcasts from Thistledown.

Television Games Network will provide coverage of the race. Post time is 5:15 p.m. Eastern.

Top team in a battle

Billy Hays and Joe Woodard, a dominant owner-trainer team at River in recent years, are in a battle for their third straight meet titles. Going into the final four-day stretch of the Jockey Club meet, Woodard had 12 wins and was tied as top trainer with Luis Palacios, and Dennis Moore was just one win behind. All but three of Woodard's wins were for Hays, his longtime client and fellow Louisville resident.

Party time!

What started out small has become one of the most popular events in Ohio racing. River hosts about 1,600 people in its annual tent party at the six-furlong pole every Cradle Day, a tradition that dates to the first few runnings of the race.

"It started over 20 years ago with maybe a couple hundred people," said John Engelhardt, the longtime publicity director at River. "Obviously, it's grown into a great event for us and the local community."

Invited guests are seated at large circular tables while eating, drinking, and watching racing throughout the day. Track general manager Jack Hanessian always mixes and mingles with customers throughout the day.

Miller Lite new title sponsor

The Miller Brewing Company, longtime sponsor of the Cradle, has announced that Miller Lite will be part of the race title next year, replacing Miller Genuine Draft.

A River spokesman said Miller wanted its best-selling beer to be highlighted.

Kentucky Cup tops at Turfway again

With Monday marking the end of the River meet, live action in this region shifts across the Ohio River to Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., where the fall meet begins Wednesday evening.

This is the 11th year that the Kentucky Cup series will highlight the fall meet. Turfway officials are excited about the horses expected to run in the Sept. 18 series of races, including Roses in May, the Whitney Handicap winner who is scheduled to use the KC Classic as his final tuneup for the Breeders' Cup Classic.