10/03/2001 11:00PM

Approach these big names with caution


ELMONT, N.Y. - Things to keep in mind when assessing the contenders in the five stakes at Belmont on Saturday . . .

First and foremost, these are preps. Rich and lucrative ones, but preps nonetheless. Stable intentions must be taken into account. When torn between contenders, it's often wise to prefer the ones who are ineligible to the Breeders' Cup, and therefore not prepping. Recently, this angle yielded Woodward winner Lido Palace.

Second, flashy mid-summer sprint form by 2-year-olds sometimes transfers unreliably to routes at Belmont in the fall. The less precocious youngsters are just beginning to get their sea legs. Remember how invincible More Than Ready looked heading into the 1999 Futurity?

Third, as of Thursday afternoon, the forecast was for showers Saturday. All of which lends some uncertainty to the afternoon no matter how obvious some of the favorites look. Some observations:

Frizette (Race 6)

Cashier's Dream and You knock heads for the third time. In Cashier's Dream's favor, she is Breeders' Cup ineligible and therefore presumed to be going all out Also, she came out of a bitterly fought Adirondack to win the Spinaway impressively (although she was a bit late changing leads, not doing so until midstretch). You, meanwhile, hasn't run since the Adirondack, so she has yet to prove her resiliency after such a freakishly demanding effort.

In You's favor: She won the Adirondack off similar spacing; Bobby Frankel is, well, Bobby Frankel; and her sire liked Belmont well enough to set the existing seven-furlong record.

The other three - Cherokee Girl, Riskaverse, and Treasure Coast Gem - come off Beyer tops in the low 80's, which means they have a lot of catching up to do. But longshot players take heart: With 2-year-olds in the fall, that happens frequently enough to make such projections financially worthwhile.

Champagne (Race 7)

Officer is the heir apparent to stablemate Point Given, who was a strong second in this race last year. Should Officer lose, it will be pointed out that the Del Mar Futurity pace was slow. On the other hand, the pace of the Best Pal was brisk and Officer overtook it easily. Heavyweight Champ is 2 for 2 at Belmont, ineligible for the Breeders' Cup, and loose on the lead, three reasons to think he has at least a puncher's chance.

Beldame (Race 8)

The third leg of a potentially tiny pick three. What do you suppose a Cashier's Dream and You, with Officer, with Flute combo might be worth? But does Flute have to win? Sure, she is an improving 3-year-old getting weight from a suspect group of older mares, and she's from the hottest stakes barn in the nation. Be that as it may, this is a prep. A $750,000 prep, but still a prep, and this will be Flute's first start in seven weeks, and just her third since winning the Kentucky Oaks over five months ago. It will also be her first one-turn route.

The other talented 3-year-old filly who continues to attract minimal attention despite her rock-solid record is Exogenous, who ran nearly as fast as Woodward winner Lido Palace when she won the Gazelle with a 110 Beyer opening weekend of the meet. The pace of the Gazelle, by the way, was faster than the Woodward at the first three calls.

The key may have been the blinkers, which last year also turned around another Scotty Schulhofer-trained horse named Lemon Drop Kid. Without blinkers, Exogenous was erratic in the upper stretch of the Alabama, but then finished well after being straightened away inside the final sixteenth. With blinkers in the Gazelle, she was all business.

Exogenous has an edge on Flute in terms of current sharpness and familiarity with the one-turn route, and rates a realistic chance to give Flute lots of trouble.

Beautiful Pleasure was originally being pointed toward the Ruffian. She has lost several steps from her form of 1999-2000, and her runner-up finish in the Personal Ensign has the looks of a last hurrah. But the wetter the track gets, the more dangerous she becomes.

Kelso (Race 9)

Easily the most wide-open of the five stakes. Can City Zip handle the switch to turf and the stretch to one mile? Perhaps on a rock-hard, sun-baked course in something like the Poker Handicap in July, but it seems far less likely on a more demanding course that has already taken significant rainfall recently.

Another well-known name to sidestep is Manndar, a non-miler type who has been in mothballs for eight months.

Names that may be more familiar post-race are: Sarafan (beaten less than two lengths last year by Giant's Causeway), who notched his first U.S. win with an explosive finish last out; and Tubrok, who handles soft turf and nearly upset the Fourstardave at 27-1 most recently.

Jockey Club Gold Cup (Race 10)

Quickly boils down to Albert the Great taking the lead, with Aptitude trying to catch him. Toward that end, Frankel has entered Sumitas, presumably to go after Albert the Great. Also gunning for Albert along the backstretch will be Generous Rosi, ridden by Albert's former pilot, Jorge Chavez.

Even so, Albert the Great's two best races in terms of Beyers - his win in last year's Gold Cup, and this year's Suburban - were dispensed at 1 1/4 miles on this track, and the feeling is that he is the more tightly cranked of the two.

Aptitude, however, is one of the rare individuals who has actually improved through the campaign after running in the Dubai World Cup, and he is also no slouch at 10 furlongs.