02/24/2004 12:00AM

Binya pinch-hits for Volga

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin will not run Volga in Saturday's Grade 3 The Very One Handicap. But before any of the opposition breathes a sigh of relief, they should be forewarned that McLaughlin has a pretty talented replacement in Binya, a German-bred mare who dominated third-level allowance company in her U.S. debut here on Jan. 16.

Volga, who like Binya is owned by Joseph Allen, is a Grade 1 winner. She would have been the 121-pound highweight and heavy favorite in the 1 3/8-mile The Very One coming off her 2 3/4-length victory in Calder's Grade 2 La Prevoyante Handicap. She also won Woodbine's Grade 1 E.P. Taylor last fall.

"Mr. Allen is still talking about whether to race on or breed Volga this season, and I thought it's best not to run her until he makes that decision," said McLaughlin.

Binya, a 5-year-old daughter of Royal Solo, was a two-time listed stakes winner in France as a 2-year-old but did not race at 3. She returned from a 14-month layoff to win her U.S. debut going 1 1/8 miles on Jan. 16 but will stretch out Saturday to the 1 3/8-mile distance for the first time.

"She's a very nice filly, but the distance is the main question," said McLaughlin. "She did everything the right way in her last race and appears to be the type who'll run all day, but you never know until they try it. This race will give us a line on whether we need to turn her back to nine furlongs or if she's got the ability to compete at this level and distance the rest of the year."

McLaughlin will have a busy weekend. He will also run Seattle Fitz, runner-up to Medaglia d'Oro in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap, in Sunday's $500,000 New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds.

"He's doing extremely well at the moment, but the race came up very tough," said McLaughlin. "But that was to be expected. When you give away $500,000 you will usually attract some runners."

Spice Island decision to come

A field of nine to 12 fillies and mares will line up for The Very One, and could include Spice Island, who defeated Volga in the Grade 2 Long Island Handicap but clipped heels and fell around the second turn in the La Prevoyante.

"The La Prevoyante was a very traumatic experience for the mare, but fortunately she came out of the race with no physical injuries," said her trainer, John Pregman Jr. "I gave her a little time off after that race just to regroup, and she's doing well at the moment. I'll see how she works on Wednesday before making a decision about this weekend. My main concern is sending her a mile and three-eighths off the layoff."

With Volga out, Spice Island would be the starting highweight at 118 pounds if she runs in The Very One.

Among others eyeing the race are Madeira Mist, Ocean Silk, Boana, May Gator, San Dare, Savedbythe-light, and Stay Forever. Other possible starters include Lost Appeal, Gal o Gal, and Aztec Pearl.

Ocean Silk and San Dare both tuned up for The Very One by working a half-mile over the main track here Tuesday. Ocean Silk breezed in 50.60 seconds while San Dare covered the same distance in 49 seconds.

Dutrow's big weekend

Like McLaughlin, trainer Dick Dutrow Jr. will also have a busy weekend. He will send out Bobbie Use as one of the favorites in Saturday's $100,000 Herecomesthebride Stakes, then fly to New Orleans, where he will saddle Saint Liam the next day in the New Orleans Handicap.

Bobbie Use will be making her first start in the Herecomesthebride since outgaming Cold Wynnter to win Calder's Tropical Oaks on New Year's Day. "She's doing great and looks unbelievable," said Dutrow. "I'm really excited about this filly. I'm not going to be in any hurry with her this year. I want to bring her along right and let her develop. She's a New York-bred and I've got a lot of options for her down the road."

Dutrow was also enthused about the chances of Saint Liam, even though he knows he will be among the longer prices on the tote board going against Funny Cide, Peace Rules, and Ten Most Wanted in the New Orleans Handicap.

"There are a lot of tough ones in the race, and he's going to be among them," Dutrow said. "He's had three works over that track and breezed really well the last time. He was just playing with the field in the two races he won since I've had him, and couldn't be coming into the race any better."

Alke invited to Dubai

Alke upset Cajun Beat by 2 1/2 lengths in the Grade 3 Deputy Minister Handicap here on Feb. 7. Their next meeting might happen halfway around the world, in the Golden Shaheen Stakes at Dubai's Nad Al Sheba Racecourse on March 27.

Trainer Todd Pletcher confirmed Monday that Alke received an invitation to the six-furlong Golden Shaheen following his victory in the Deputy Minister. Cajun Beat, the reigning Breeders' Cup Sprint champion, had already been invited to Dubai and has been pointing for the Golden Shaheen since arriving in south Florida earlier this winter.

"Right now, I'm undecided whether he will go to Dubai or not," Pletcher said. "The downside to the trip is that he's doing extremely well at the moment, and if he were to go over there it might knock him out of action for a while."

Alke, a 4-year-old son of Grand Slam, has won all four of his starts since he was transferred to Pletcher's barn in the fall by owners Kenneth English and Alan Braun.

"If he doesn't go to Dubai, our most likely options would be the Carter in New York or Commonwealth Handicap at Keeneland," said Pletcher. "He won't run here in the Richter Scale either way. I've got Lion Tamer for that race." The Richter Scale is to be run March 6.

Meanwhile, trainer Steve Margolis said Cajun Beat has bounced back from his Deputy Minister setback and will depart for Dubai on March 13. Jerry Bailey will replace regular rider Cornelio Velasquez aboard Cajun Beat in the Golden Shaheen.

"Jerry is coming up to Palm Meadows to work him five furlongs on Saturday," said Margolis. "He rode Cajun Beat last winter, but this will give him a chance to refamiliarize himself and give us some input. It should also be good for both his confidence and ours."

Proud Man may make trip

Proud Man, winner of the Sunshine Millions Turf last month, breezed an easy three furlongs in 40 seconds Saturday at Payson Park. It was his first workout since the race.

Trainer Christophe Clement said he gave Proud Man a brief freshening after the Sunshine Millions and is pointing the colt to the Grade 2, $500,000 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap (formerly the Explosive Bid) at Fair Grounds on March 21.

"If he trains well, we'll run there. If we want to wait, we'll wait until Keeneland," Clement said. "I gave him a small break with the idea being to have a fresh horse at Belmont. He ran the biggest race of his life last time."

Clement said Proud Man jogged and was turned out in the three weeks following the Sunshine Millions, a race he won by a half-length, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 102, the second highest of his career.

Clement will be in stakes action this weekend at Gulfstream, running Madeira Mist in The Very One Handicap. Madeira Mist is coming off a win in the Endeavour Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 10.

* Funny Cide worked five furlongs in 59.60 seconds and galloped out six furlongs in 1:12 and change at Palm Meadows on Tuesday in his final major prep for the New Orleans Handicap.

* House Party worked four furlongs in 48.80 at Gulfstream on Tuesday. She might make her next start in the Hurricane Bertie Stakes on March 7.

- additional reporting by David Grening