09/03/2004 11:00PM

Big step up for Diamond Isle

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CINCINNATI - Ken McPeek will be happy to relive his own little Labor Day tradition Monday. McPeek will drive from his Louisville home to River Downs for the $200,000 Cradle Stakes, a Grade 3 race in which McPeek has two wins and two seconds in recent years.

McPeek stands a very good chance to make this another lucrative road trip, most notably because of Diamond Isle, whom McPeek said "could be a serious, serious racehorse." Diamond Isle will start from post 5 in a field of eight 2-year-olds in the 28th running of the Cradle.

"If he wins this race, it could be Katy bar the door," said McPeek. "This colt just has so much potential. I honestly think he could be any kind."

A Gilded Time colt owned by Buckram Oak Farm, Diamond Isle has had just two starts, the latest being a snappy maiden victory on closing day of the Churchill Downs spring meet. McPeek took most of his best horses to Saratoga this summer but left Diamond Isle at Churchill to train with assistant Helen Pitts.

"Our intent the whole summer with this colt has been the Cradle," said McPeek. "After his maiden win, I wanted his next start to be going long. He's done exceptionally well coming up to the race."

Brice Blanc will be aboard Diamond Isle.

At 1 1/16 miles, the Cradle represents the first race at two turns for the primary contenders, a group that also includes Scipion and Bellamy Road.

Diamond Isle figures to be second choice behind Scipion, an A.P. Indy colt whose lone start Aug. 14 at Saratoga had fans going crazy. Scipion was last of eight with less than a furlong to go when he passed the entire field, leading race caller Tom Durkin to finish his call with, "Wow!"

Edgar Prado, the leading rider in North America in mount earnings, has the call on Scipion for trainer Patrick Biancone.

Bellamy Road is a Michael Dickinson-trained colt who won his first and only start by 7 1/2 lengths at Delaware Park . Abel Castellano Jr. has the mount.

The rest of the Cradle field is Copy My Notes, Quick Blend, Capwikann, Cat Tourn, and Flyrock.

Monday marks the 20-year anniversary of a romp by Spend a Buck in the Cradle. River had 6,000 commemorative mugs ordered to give away Monday as a tribute to Spend a Buck.

The Cradle will be featured Monday on Television Games Network.