06/04/2003 12:00AM

Bird Town can go either way


ELMONT, N.Y. - The breaks of the game.

Bird Town is gifted with speed, so it is natural for her to be on or near the lead in her races. Under the circumstances she did well, winning some minor stakes races and just missing in others when she became involved in speed duels. Then, in last month's Kentucky Oaks, she stumbled leaving the gate, and jockey Edgar Prado's choice of tactics became restricted. He had to play the waiting game with Bird Town.

He played it to perfection, settling the Cape Town filly for a stretch drive that produced a decisive victory by more than three lengths.

Friday's $250,000 Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park for 3-year-old fillies looks much more competitive than the Kentucky Oaks. For one thing, it has attracted last year's 2-year-old filly champion, Storm Flag Flying, who wasn't quite ready for the Kentucky Oaks. For another, it includes two talented fillies from trainer Allen Jerkens's red-hot barn - House Party, recent winner of the Nassau County, and Kitty Knight, who also comes off a win. Another with credentials is Lady Tak, beaten favorite in the Kentucky Oaks after being bumped on the clubhouse turn.

Trainer Nick Zito feels that Bird Town, bred and owned by Marylou Whitney, is the one to beat because of her consistency and her newly discovered strategic options.

"She has been remarkably steady, wherever she's raced," Zito said, "whether at Calder, Gulfstream, Keeneland, or Churchill Downs. And after seeing in the Kentucky Oaks how well she rates off the pace, Prado can ride her with confidence, no matter how the Acorn develops. Bird Town has trained beautifully at Saratoga the past few weeks and we are looking forward to an exciting Acorn."

The competitive appearance of the Acorn is matched by the strength of Saturday's field for the Belmont Stakes. But while we have read endorsements for such entrants as Dynever, Empire Maker, and Ten Most Wanted, there have been relatively few recommendations for Scrimshaw's chance to turn back Funny Cide in his pursuit of the Triple Crown.

Wayne Lukas, who trains Scrimshaw for owners Bob and Beverly Lewis, has four Belmont victories to his credit - Tabasco Cat, Thunder Gulch, Editor's Note, and Commendable. Lukas admits to being impressed by Funny Cide's performances in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

"But I don't think you can ever be totally confident about a horse staying the mile and a half of the Belmont," Lukas said. "It is very much uncharted waters. The only horse I was confident about in the Belmont was Charismatic. He won the Derby and Preakness in 1999 and went wrong in the stretch run of the Belmont."

Lukas feels that Scrimshaw and the others must have progressed from the Preakness if they are to be a factor in the Belmont.

"All Funny Cide need do to win is to run back to his races in the Derby and Preakness," he said. "I'm very pleased with the way Scrimshaw has trained these last few weeks. His work the other day - five furlongs in 1:00 and six furlongs in 1:12 - was his best move of the spring. I wouldn't be totally surprised to see him win the Belmont."