08/08/2002 12:00AM

With Anticipation on schedule

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - He has the routine down pat by now: a prep race or two in the spring, the United Nations at Monmouth in July, and then the $500,000 Sword Dancer at Saratoga.

With Anticipation, a 7-year-old gelding by Relaunch owned and bred by George Strawbridge Jr. of Philadelphia, followed that pattern last summer and won the Sword Dancer. He will bid for a rare second victory in this prestigious Grade 1 feature Saturday, and despite his age, will be one of the favorites in what appears to be a very competitive field.

"He's doing well and training well," trainer Jonathan Sheppard said at the barn. "It doesn't appear he has lost a thing since last year. He may even be more effective. He was disqualified for interference in last year's United Nations but won it again this time and the number stayed up."

The Sword Dancer has been run as a distance race on the grass since 1980, and in 22 years the only horses to win twice are Majesty's Prince and El Senor, both tough competitors with steely determination. With Anticipation is cut from the same bolt of cloth. He has earned more than $1.5 million and has finished in the money 28 times from 40 starts. The 40 starts speak well for his character, and also for the care he receives from his Hall of Fame trainer.

He will need all his skills to win this one. His opponents include Denon, who won the Grade l Charlie Whittingham at Hollywood and was a close second in the United Nations; Hawkeye, a well-bred Irish import; Cetewayo, a hard-hitting veteran of the turf wars who earned more than $1 million; Whitmore's Conn, stretch-running winner of the Bowling Green at Belmont last month; and Volponi, who made the pace in the recent Bernard Baruch here and was beaten a neck by Del Mar Show.

Racing secretary and handicapper Michael Lakow, in his weights for the Sword Dancer, made With Anticipation the highweight; he concedes three to five pounds to these horses. We think he can do it but he will need a good trip. Trouble spells trouble for senior citizens, four legs or two.

Art for sale, as well

Concurrent with sales week, numerous exhibits of equine art blossom throughout Saratoga, to the delight of almost everyone.

One of the most popular shows features the unique work of Tony Alonso, who captures the lifestyle, color, and mood of the stable area area with a verity that is compelling. The Alonso exhibit at the Gideon Putnam puts the viewer in the world of horses, a pleasant place.

Fasig-Tipton displays the work of many artists at the sales pavilion on East Avenue and a good portion of the display is outstanding. One of the best exhibits, year-in and year-out, is that of Frost and Reed at the Sheraton. One of the highlights is the work of the brilliant Scot Peter Smith, who brings to life the training of Thoroughbreds in the stark conditions of his native land. A standout piece depicts a set of Thoroughbreds ascending a snow-covered rise of ground at a stable near Glasgow.

The work of a new artist on the scene, Booth Malone, of Georgia, is striking. He has an original approach to the contemporary horse that suggests he will be a star on the horizon in the years ahead. There are also several excellent works by Rochelle Levy of Philadelphia, whose surfside scenes along the Normandy coast have been immensely popular in recent years. She also displays some impressionist feelings of the Paris racing scene in a manner recall in the works of Dufy.