10/23/2001 11:00PM

Based on early returns, Political Attack has right stuff

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - John Hennig has been training horses for some 35 years, so his guesses qualify as highly educated ones. Hennig says he believes that Political Attack has every right to develop into a quality turf horse, but he is having a hard time gauging exactly what that means for now.

On Friday, Political Attack will be one of the deserving favorites against eight other 2-year-old turf horses in the $100,000 Hopemont Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile turf race at Keeneland.

"That's what's hard to sort through," said Hennig. "There just hasn't been that much happen that you can start making fair comparisons. Heck, a maiden just won this kind of race in Chicago."

Indeed, Rylstone captured the Manila Stakes at Arlington last weekend for trainer Lynn Whiting, illustrating how unpredictable turf racing for 2-year-olds can be at this early stage of their careers. Nevertheless, Political Attack, bred and owned by former Kentucky Gov. Brereton C. Jones, won the Oct. 11 prep for the Hopemont by leading throughout in eye-catching fashion, leading Hennig to think he might have a budding grass star.

"Keeneland is a difficult place for a horse to win wire to wire on the grass," said Hennig, whose top horse in recent years has been the turf filly Megans Bluff. "What was most impressive was the fact he finished fast after being on the lead all the way."

Political Attack, by Hawk Attack, finished a mile in 1:36.44 after going six furlongs in 1:12.58, meaning he finished the final quarter in less than 24 seconds. A repeat effort clearly would make him the one to beat in a field that also includes the unbeaten Pharaoh's Cat, who actually defeated Political Attack in a small sprint stakes last month at Kentucky Downs.

The rest of the Hopemont field is Pemaquid Point, Play It Out, Midwatch, Pedernales River, Hunter Cruise, Daisyago, and Stage Call.

Stage Call, by the world-class sire Sadler's Wells, probably is the wild card of the group, having been imported recently from Ireland. Stage Call is now trained by Elliott Walden.

The Hopemont, which dates to 1991, is the eighth of nine races on a Friday card that also includes four allowance races.

Freon Flier draws clear

Freon Flier posted his third straight victory when drawing off Wednesday to defeat four other 3-year-olds in the $73,375 McConnell Springs Stakes.

Ridden by Jon Court, Freon Flier stalked Astrologist through six furlongs of the 1 1/16-mile race before taking command and finishing a length clear of a mild late run from On the Game. Trion Georgia, the 8-5 favorite, finished third, another 5 3/4 lengths back.

Freon Flier returned $6.80 as second choice after finishing in 1:44.26 over a muddy track. A gray son of Waquoit, Freon Flier is owned by Brian Dance and is trained by Mike Trivigno.

Freon Flier won his last start before the McConnell Springs when taking a second-level allowance race here Oct. 11. He now has won 6 of 20 career starts.

"Today he showed a willingness to rate, so he had that little extra in the stretch," said Court.

The race was restricted to 3-year-olds who previously had not won a stakes at beyond a mile.

Fayette comes up strong

Although it's only a Grade 3 race with a $150,000 purse, the Fayette Stakes on Saturday is coming up exceptionally tough.

Outofthebox, winner of the Grade 1 Super Derby in his last start, is scheduled to square off against multiple stakes winner Broken Vow and about six others in the Fayette, highlight of the closing-day card here.

Other probables for the 1 1/8-mile Fayette are Chicago Six, Concerned Minister, First Lieutenant, Jadada, Just Ruler, and Maysville Slew.

The Fayette will be the fourth and final race on an abbreviated card that begins at 11:15 a.m. Eastern. Gates open at 9.

Ack Ack attracts large field

A pair of 3-year-olds, Illusioned and Dream Run, head a prospective field of about eight to 10 for Sunday's opening-day feature at Churchill Downs, the $100,000 Ack Ack Stakes.

Pat Day will ride Illusioned for trainer Bill Mott in the Grade 3, 7 1/2-furlong Ack Ack. Illusioned finished second in the King's Bishop and Jerome in his last two starts.

Jon Court is scheduled to handle Dream Run, easy winner of the Perryville at Keeneland in his last start.

* Because there will be only four live races here Saturday, the pick five wager must be paid out in its entirety Friday, regardless of whether any tickets are sold with all five winning horses. In case there are no 5-for-5 tickets, the bet will be paid out to those who have the most winners.

* Advance wagering on all eight races in the World Thoroughbred Championships will be available Friday at outlets throughout Kentucky, including Keeneland, the Sports Spectrum in Louisville, and at Turfway Park in northern Kentucky.

At Keeneland, the drive-through betting windows open daily at 8 a.m.