10/03/2001 11:00PM

Bet on Sunshine back for his fifth Phoenix


LEXINGTON, Ky. - It was five years ago in the Phoenix Breeders' Cup Stakes that Forest Wildcat won by a length over Valid Expectations, with Bet on Sunshine third.

On Saturday, while Forest Wildcat has 3-year-olds and Valid Expectations has 2-year-olds in training at racetracks across North America, the 9-year-old gelding Bet on Sunshine will race in the Phoenix for the fifth time, a reign of longevity that Keeneland officials believe is a record.

"If there's another horse who's run in any of our stakes that many times, nobody can find it," said track president Nick Nicholson.

Bet on Sunshine is one of five entered in the 149th running of the Grade 3, $250,000 Phoenix BC, a six-furlong race that Keene-land proudly bills as the "Oldest Stakes Race in America," since it dates to 1831 at the old Kentucky Association track in Lexington. After his Phoenix debut in 1996, Bet on Sunshine won the 1997 running; missed the 1998 running because of an injury; finished second in 1999; and finished third last year.

The 2001 renewal will be the third time Bet on Sunshine has been the Phoenix favorite, following 1997 and 2000. If Bet on Sunshine wins Saturday, trainer Paul J McGee plans to send him to Belmont Park for a third try at the Breeders' Cup Sprint, a race in which the gelding finished a close third in 1997 and 2000.

The primary challenger appears to be Snow Ridge, a 3-year-old who two weeks ago defeated City Zip in the Kentucky Cup Sprint at Turfway Park.

Snow Ridge will bid to become the fourth Phoenix winner for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, following Deposit Ticket (1991), Lost Pan (1994), and Partner's Hero (1998).

The other starters are Crucible, Robin de Nest, and Erlton.

Interestingly, Erlton's owner, New Farm, won the Phoenix with Forest Wildcat, with Ben Perkins Sr. listed as trainer. Erlton's trainer is Ben Perkins Jr.

Weight assignments are based on allowance conditions, meaning Snow Ridge will carry 123 pounds, the same as Bet on Sunshine. The others get in with slightly less.

Holloway's birthday wish

If anyone asks David Holloway what he wants for his birthday Saturday, there is little doubt what his answer will be.

Holloway, owner of Bet on Sunshine, turns 71 Saturday. He plans to drive from his suburban Louisville home with his wife, Henrida, to Keeneland, where some 20 other family members and friends will help them cheer for their pride and joy in the Phoenix.

For Holloway, who is retired from his concrete business in Shepherdsville, Ky., few things in life have meant more than Bet on Sunshine, a Florida-bred he purchased for $22,000 as an unraced 3-year-old.

Early in the horse's career, when he suspected the horse could develop into a standout, Holloway paid an artist to adorn both sides of his white Dodge van with large murals of Bet on Sunshine racing to victory under jockey Pat Day. The van can frequently be spotted tooling around Middletown, Ky., where several generations of Holloways long have resided.

Since the van got its paint job, Bet on Sunshine has had his two third-place finishes in th BC Sprint and earned the majority of his $1,236,197 bankroll.

Don't dismiss Futurity field

Although the race is deep and contentious, the collective accomplishments of the 11 colts entered in the Breeders' Futurity are not all that impressive. Only three starters have won stakes - none graded - while the other eight are still eligible for entry-level allowance conditions.

But don't let those figures fool you. If history means anything in this 88th running of Keeneland's signature race for 2-year-olds, the winner could emerge to be a top-notch horse.

Don't even consider the history of forgotten decades, when 2-year-olds such as Whirlaway, Round Table, Swale, and Forty Niner won the race.

Just look at the last seven winners, from 1994 onward: Tejano Run, Honour and Glory, Boston Harbor, Favorite Trick, Cat Thief, Captain Steve, and Arabian Light.

All became major winners except Arabian Light, the Bob Baffert-trained colt who has not raced since being injured in the BC Juvenile last fall. Otherwise, their records are outstanding: Boston Harbor was a 1996 Eclipse champion. Favorite Trick was the 1997 Horse of the Year. Cat Thief won the 1999 BC Classic. Captain Steve won the $6 million Dubai World Cup earlier this year. It may very well be premature to call this a so-so field.

The best is yet to come

With the Phoenix and Breeders' Futurity in the middle of a blockbuster three-day weekend slated t o begin Friday with the Alcibiades and WinStar Galaxy, the best may be held for last. The two Sunday stakes, the Grade 1 Overbrook Spinster and Grade 2 Shadwell Keeneland Turf Mile, are shaping up as sensational races.

At least 10 fillies and mares are likely for the Spinster, and at least five of those would have to be regarded as a major BC Distaff contender if she is victorious. They are Lazy Slusan, with Victor Espinoza to ride; Pompeii, Gary Stevens; Printemps, Jerry Bailey; Secret Status, Pat Day; and Unbridled Elaine, Robby Albarado.

Other probables for the 1 1/8-mile race are Miss Linda, Precious Feather, Royal Fair, and Starrer.

The same rule pretty much applies to the $500,000 Shadwell Mile, i.e., the winner is a virtual automatic contender for the BC Mile. Most notably, Hap certainly would rank as one of the BC Mile favorites if he can turn back successfully in distance for Bailey and trainer Bill Mott.

Hap, the distinctive-looking chestnut with the flaxen mane and tail, most recently ran second in the Aug. 18 Arlington Million at 1 1/4 miles.

The others trying to advance include Aly's Alley, Brahms, Mr. Livingston, North East Bound, Quiet Resolve, Union One, and Where's Taylor.

Pick four hook-up with Santa Anita

The Spinster and Shadwell Mile will be part of the new "Four Stakes Pick Four" wager on Sunday. The other two races in the bet are the Goodwood BC and Oak Tree BC Mile, both from Santa Anita. The bet will be available at most simulcast outlets.

Keeneland had hoped to offer another multi-race wager in conjunction with an out-of-state track Saturday but plans fell through. A daily double linking the Breeders' Futurity and the Champagne Stakes was called off because of logistical problems, said Keeneland spokesman Jude Feld.