10/08/2003 11:00PM

Belmont's noteworthy performances and trends


ELMONT, N.Y. - With just over two weeks left at Belmont's fall meet, and with this being the lightest Saturday in terms of graded stakes action, it seems like a good time to review some noteworthy races and trends from the first five weeks:

Sept. 5 - The main track was drying out and good to wet-fast for the opening day card, and the surface seemed to speed up as it dried throughout the card.

Well Fancied, who won the Evan Shipman by open lengths closing day of the spring-summer meet, returned from a late-summer freshening to win the General Douglas MacArthur just as convincingly. In his present form, Well Fancied may give Funny Cide all he can handle in next Saturday's Empire Classic.

Sept. 6 - Is there a better trainer of one-turn milers than Nick Zito? His turf-to-dirt 3-year-old Ballado Chieftan exploded to win a maiden special weight race in 1:34.63, way better than par for the level. The figure was legit: Ballado Chieftan returned at Keeneland earlier this week, and in his first start against winners ran second in the $100,000 Perryville Stakes behind favored Clock Stopper, a two-time allowance winner who was coming off a near-miss in the Kentucky Cup Sprint.

Sept. 11 - The small ontrack gathering of 3,777 might have seen the Breeders' Cup Sprint winner in the flesh, as Shake You Down rebounded from a fourth-place finish in an in-the-slop renewal of the A.G. Vanderbilt to powerfully win a classified allowance under wraps in 1:08.62.

Sept. 12 - We haven't seen much of Belmont's infamous dead rail this fall, but this was one day when horses positioned in outside paths appeared to have an edge.

Sept. 13 - Wild Spirit doesn't like being pinned down on the inside. That would explain her defeat at 1-5 up at Saratoga, and also explain why jockey Jerry Bailey was quick to maneuver her off the inside after breaking from the 1-hole in the Ruffian. Wild Spirit inhaled her rivals five wide approaching the stretch, and won with something left. Here's hoping she is supplemented to the Breeders' Cup Distaff, which would be the best race of the day if she were to be in the gate along with stablemate Sightseek, defending champ Azeri, and Santa Anita horse-for-course Got Koko.

Sept. 14 - A brief rainshower hit after the fourth race, tightening up a track that was already playing kind to early speed. At the end of the day, eight of 10 winners either led or raced in second position at the first call. One of the exceptions was Marylebone, who nosed out stablemate Lokoya in a slowly run Matron. The time of 1:38.02 was more than two seconds slower than Cuvee's Futurity romp a half-hour later.

Sept. 18 - The fringes of Hurricane Isabel were arriving, and there was a strong tailwind as the fields raced into the far turn. Strong edge for early-speed types. All five dirt winners were one-two at the first call, and four exactas comprised horses running one-two or two-one early.

Sept. 25 - As most handicappers know by now, closers have a built-in edge on the grass. That advantage started to become even more pronounced during the last week of September at Belmont, and the deep-closing trend really took hold on this card - two days after a heavy rain on a dark Tuesday.

Sept. 26 - George Weaver, a former assistant to Todd Pletcher who recently went out on his own, isn't a household name yet, but you can be sure that trainer handicappers are watching him a lot more closely after he won two one- mile turf races for 2-year-old fillies, with first-time starter My Amandari ($38.20) and Really American ($121), who improved a ton off two lackluster dirt races.

Sept. 27 - Sulamani wasn't beating much in the Turf Classic, but did it impressively after appearing to clip heels and stumbling badly leaving the far turn. You have to go back to Alysheba's 1987 amazing Kentucky Derby to come up with a similar instance of a horse lifting himself off the deck to win.

Sept. 28 - A big day for early-speed horses on a sloppy to muddy main track. Seven "early" horses won, including five gate-to-wire victories - three of which paid double-digit mutuels.

Oct. 2-3 - Bettors who backed early speed on dirt and late ralliers on turf probably needed an armed guard to carry away the money. Noteworthy against-the-bias performances on turf were turned in by Belladumaani, Celtic Memories, Rose Esther, and Pattiano.

Oct. 4 - Deep closers again on the turf, particularly at a mile on the Widener, where Pieria went from next-to-last at the pace call to get up in a third-level allowance, and Freefourinternet was last of 10 at the same point before circling widest to prevail at 20-1. Outside paths seemed best on the main track, which is where all seven winners were positioned in the stretch.