09/03/2005 12:00AM

Any gems in this Cradle?

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CINCINNATI - The results of the Travers Stakes last weekend did not go unnoticed in the overlapping racing communities of Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. The Travers winner, Flower Alley, captured his first career stakes in the Lane's End at nearby Turfway Park in March, while the runner-up, Bellamy Road, first drew widespread attention with a sensational win in the Cradle Stakes at River Downs last Labor Day.

No one can be sure whether any of the nine 2-year-olds who will clash Monday in the 29th running of the $200,000 Cradle at River will proceed on similar paths to stardom, but most everyone readily acknowledges that the chance exists.

"It seems like the Cradle always comes up a tough race, a lot more than you would think," said trainer Frank Brothers, who will be here from Churchill Downs to saddle Laity as a major contender in the 1 1/16-mile Cradle. "Sometimes it's unbelievable."

Six of the nine Cradle starters, including Laity, will be vanned from Louisville to compete in the Cradle, the annual highlight at River. Brothers believes that Laity, a Claiborne Farm homebred with one victory from two maiden races, owns considerable upside.

"He's very talented, and he should get better with more ground, but like so many young horses, he has got a lot to learn," said Brothers, whose previous Cradle forays include a 1996 victory with Haint and runner-up finishes with Lecture (1998) and Mighty (1999). "We've got a lot of hope for him, but he's going to have keep going forward."

At least three other Churchill shippers have shown enough to have their connections looking for big things. Key West Breeze has been favored in all three of his starts and most recently finished second in the Colin Stakes at Woodbine; Rocket Beauty, a $240,000 purchase for trainer Bob Holthus, broke through with an overdue maiden victory at Ellis Park in his last start; and Dawn of War, from the deep Dale Romans stable, was a convincing winner of the Cradle prep here Aug. 13.

The balance of the Cradle field is Spotsgone, Warrior Within, Pipa Caliente, Groovy Devil, and Acts Like a King.

The top local hope, Acts Like a King, won the restricted Hoover Stakes two starts back and will try to emulate Harlan's Holiday, who won the Hoover and Cradle four years ago.