06/14/2004 11:00PM

Alternate drops down for a prep

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ELMONT, N.Y. - After a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay Handicap last month, Alternate takes a drop in class Thursday when she meets four rivals in a $56,000 classified allowance race at Belmont Park.

Thursday's race, run at 1 1/4 miles over the inner turf course, is a prep for the Grade 2, $250,000 New York Handicap to be run here on July 5.

, a 5-year-old daughter of Seattle Slew, seemed primed for a big performance in the Sheepshead Bay. She was making her third start of the year and had turned in two solid efforts, finishing a troubled third in the Grade 3 Hillsborough Handicap at Tampa and second, beaten a nose, in the Grade 3 Bewitch at Keeneland in April.

But Alternate caught a yielding turf course in the Sheepshead Bay and she didn't seem to care for it, as she simply galloped around the course, finishing seven lengths behind gate-to-wire winner Moscow Burning.

"I thought she struggled a little bit on it," trainer Graham Motion said. "I know the next day it firmed up pretty good, but that day it was pretty soft. It looked to me like her wheels got to spinning a little bit. I thought it was much softer at Belmont than it was at Keeneland."

Edgar Prado will ride Alternate, who has to carry top weight of 120 pounds. Motion said he could run Alternate or Humaita, winner of the restricted Sabin Stakes here on May 12, back in the New York Handicap.

The day Humaita won the Sabin, she ran down Jakarta Jade, an Irish-bred mare who was making her North American debut for trainer Christophe Clement. Jakarta Jade returns in this spot and again looks to be the one to catch under Richard Migliore.

was a Group 1 winner in Argentina, but has yet to transfer that form to North America. She ran fourth in three consecutive races in Southern California before just missing when she rallied from well off the pace in a one-mile allowance race here on May 21. Perhaps the stretchout to 1 1/4 miles will help as her Group 1 win came at that distance. Jerry Bailey rides for Bobby Frankel.

Alchemist returns to the turf after finishing fourth in the White Carnation Stakes on Belmont Day. She is winless in three turf tries, but has finished second twice. Devotion Unbridled has never tried the turf, but is out of the mare Icy Warning, an eight-time winner on the grass.