09/01/2006 11:00PM

Bushfire, Pine Island get ready to rumble


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Following Monday's closing day card at Saratoga, horsemen and racing fans will have three days to catch their breath before the Friday opening of Belmont Park's 33-day fall meet.

The Belmont meet will come roaring out of the gate Saturday with three Grade 1 races, two of which could play pivotal roles in determining champions in two divisions.

Saturday's Grade 1, $250,000 Gazelle for 3-year-old fillies will pit three-time Grade 1 winner Bushfire against Alabama winner Pine Island, who finished second to Bushfire in the Grade 1 Mother Goose on July 1.

On Saturday at Saratoga, Pine Island completed her preparations for the Gazelle by working four furlongs in 49 seconds over the Oklahoma training track. She galloped out five furlongs in 1:02.60.

"Her work this morning was as good as I've seen her work," said Shug McGaughey, trainer of Pine Island.

McGaughey said the Pine Island that will run against Bushfire on Saturday is a different filly than the one who ran in the Mother Goose.

"She's a lot more mature now, a lot more racing hardy," McGaughey said.

Bushfire has had the summer off since winning the Mother Goose. In a seven-day span, Bushfire fired a pair of bullet five-furlong workouts at Churchill Downs, including a 1:00.20 move last Tuesday that was the best of 23.

Others pointing for the Gazelle, run at 1 1/8 miles around one turn, are Last Romance, Miss Shop, Teammate, Wild Fit, and possibly Unbridled Belle.

Nakatani to ride Relaxed Gesture

Corey Nakatani will replace Kent Desormeaux aboard Relaxed Gesture for Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park, trainer Christophe Clement said.

Desormeaux has ridden Relaxed Gesture in his last three starts, including the Sword Dancer Invitational, in which Desormeaux surprisingly had Relaxed Gesture on the lead in the early stages. Relaxed Gesture finished fifth as the 3-5 favorite.

Clement wouldn't comment specifically on the change, other than to say Nakatani has ridden Relaxed Gesture before. Nakatani won the Grade 1 Canadian International aboard Relaxed Gesture last October.

On Saturday, Relaxed Gesture worked four furlongs in an easy 51.90 seconds over the Oklahoma training track.

"He went well," Clement said. "It was an easy half. He came back in good shape."

Cacique, who beat Relaxed Gesture by a head in the Grade 1 Manhattan on Belmont Stakes Day, also worked over the Oklahoma training track, breezing five furlongs in 1:03.10 under jockey Edgar Prado. Cacique worked inside of Aristocrat, who beat Cacique by a head.

"The track was a little heavy and loose on the backside, and he didn't like it too much," said Prado. "It was a little better in the stretch, so he finished good. He doesn't gallop out no matter where you put him."

Attila's Storm close to return

Attila's Storm moved one step closer to his return to the races by working four furlongs in 49 seconds Saturday morning over Saratoga's main track, according to trainer Richard Schosberg. Saratoga clockers credited him with a five-furlong move in 1:02.87.

Schosberg said Attila's Storm was one work away from returning to the races.

"That's a good work for him," Schosberg said. "He's normally a very ordinary work horse, but he's not a very ordinary racehorse. I was very pleased with his work this morning over what was a sealed track, unfortunately."

Attila's Storm is making a comeback following surgery on his left hind leg to repair a fracture suffered in the Palos Verdes Handicap on Jan. 21 at Santa Anita.

Schosberg said he is hoping to get two races into Attila's Storm before the Breeders' Cup Sprint, a race in which he finished fourth last year. Following the Breeders' Cup, Attila's Storm won the Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct and was second in the Malibu at Santa Anita.

Twilight card deemed a success

The first twilight card held at Saratoga in the modern era was deemed a success after attendance and handle figures were both up compared to the last Friday of last year. Friday's card began at 3 p.m., two hours later than usual.

A crowd of 17,993 attended Friday's races, and the ontrack handle was $2,962,568. Last year, the final Friday crowd was 13,960 and the ontrack handle was $2,489,554. Last year's final Friday card had 10 races, although one was a steeplechase.

All-sources handle for Friday's card was $15,204,204 compared to $14,015,696 last year.

NYRA president and CEO Charlie Hayward said he was "very pleased" with the twilight card. While no decision has been made on running future twilight programs at Saratoga, it is likely that next year's final Friday program will be run at 3 p.m. Hayward said he wanted to meet with members of the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce and local business people before making that decision.

Hayward said operators of local restaurants and bars expressed concern about the late-starting card, because it would cost them business in the early evening.

"We agreed we'd meet sometime in late September or early October and get some kind of consensus," Hayward said.

- additional reporting by Mike Kane