09/05/2002 12:00AM

With Anticipation big threat to three-peat


ELMONT, N.Y. - It's not easy to win three consecutive Grade 1 races, let alone the same three races in consecutive years.

That's what With Anticipation will try to accomplish - sort of - Saturday at Belmont Park in the $500,000 Man o' War. Last year, With Anticipation was disqualified from first in the United Nations, then won the Sword Dancer and Man o' War in succession.

After repeat performances this summer in the United Nations and Sword Dancer, With Anticipation, a 7-year-old gelding, will be the deserving favorite in the Man o' War, a 1 3/8-mile weight-for-age grass race. All starters carry 126 pounds.

Eight entered the Man o' War, which along with the $750,000 Turf Classic Invitational on Sept. 28 at Belmont, is a springboard to the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf at Arlington on Oct. 26.

With Anticipation came with a determined late run to win the 1 1/2-mile Sword Dancer by a neck over Denon, who also finished second by a narrow margin to With Anticipation in the United Nations.

The thrilling finish, combined with With Anticipation's rider, Pat Day, becoming the all-time leading jockey in money won in the Sword Dancer, sweetened the victory for trainer Jonathan Sheppard.

"It was incredible," Sheppard said. "I thought it was snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. At the three-sixteenths pole, I thought we would be lucky to hit the board."

With Anticipation remained at Saratoga to train for the Man o' War and worked five-eighths in company in 1:03.14 over the main track on Wednesday.

"We worked him on grass last Tuesday," Sheppard said. "The idea [Wednesday] was to put a little bit of speed into him. The final time wasn't fast, but he finished up nicely and went the last eighth in [11.60]."

With Anticipation, with Day aboard, drew post 3.

Man From Wicklow ran a surprisingly good race in the Sword Dancer to finish fourth, beaten two lengths by With Anticipation. The effort was all the more encouraging because Man From Wicklow, who was 47-1, went to his knees during the first eighth of a mile when he clipped heels.

"I'd like to think it cost us something," Rick Violette, Man From Wicklow's trainer, said.

Trainer Bobby Frankel sends out the uncoupled entry of Skipping and Lord Flasheart. Frankel said Skipping got sick after finishing third in the Grade 1 Charlie Whittingham, a race Frankel won with Denon at Hollywood on June 15. Frankel said Lord Flasheart, third in the Sunset at Hollywood in July, prefers a bit more give in the ground than he got in California.

The main speed here is Balto Star, who nearly equaled the course record when he won a Saratoga allowance race last month. Tobougg, a Group 1 winner in Europe, also has early foot.

Completing the field are Blazing Fury, who could be along to pick up a piece of the purse, and Regal Dynasty.