06/27/2001 11:00PM

Aristides favorites ready to fire

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When Bet on Sunshine and Alannan last raced at Churchill Downs, they were separated by nearly an hour. In Saturday's $100,000 Aristides Handicap, as little as a fifth of the second may separate the two crack sprinters.

This time they won't be competing in different races, which happened at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day, May 5. Bet on Sunshine finished second in an allowance that afternoon, one race before Alannan won the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap.

Both horses enter the 6 1/2-furlong Aristides in good form. Alannan, fresh off a third-place finish in the Met Mile, is a multiple graded winner and Bet on Sunshine should return to his best in his second race of the year.

His best wasn't on display Derby Day. Racing for the first time since finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint last November, the 9-year-old Bet on Sunshine showed signs of rust after six months of inactivity. Not as eager as usual, he was put to a drive leaving the turn, and rallied for second on guts alone.

"I thought it was a very good race given the fact he wasn't 100 percent fit," said trainer Paul McGee. "He ought to improve, which I would think would make him tough."

Calvin Borel rides Bet on Sunshine, the defending Aristides champion and a winner of 18 of 38 races and over $1.1 million.

Although McGee anticipates a strong effort from Bet on Sunshine, he acknowledges Alannan as the horse to beat. Since joining trainer Carl Nafzger's barn this spring following the death of his original trainer, John Tammaro, Alannan has won two of three starts - his only loss coming in the Grade 1 Met Mile.

Nafzger said the credit belongs to the horse, as well as to Tammaro and son Mike Tammaro, who advised him of the horse's quirks and training.

"He was just coming [around]," he said. "We were waiting on him, then he ran a near-perfect horse race" when he finished a close fourth in the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Championship in March.

Following Gulfstream, Alannan came to Kentucky with Nafzger, and rose to greater heights. He won the Grade 2 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup at Keeneland in April, and followed that with his Derby Day victory.

He carries 119 pounds, one pound fewer than highweight Bet on Sunshine. Robby Albarado rides.

Although Alannan and Bet on Sunshine are the deserving headliners, the Aristides is more than a two-horse race. The speedy Dash for Daylight has the quickness to control the pace, and recent stakes winner Robin de Nest enters the Aristides following three consecutive triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures.