06/03/2003 11:00PM

Can sunny shipper rain on parade?


ELMONT, N.Y. - "How would you like to look that good naked?"

Under normal circumstances, that might be a punch line to one of Cincy Dollase's famously naughty jokes. More often than not, they leave her audience in stitches and her adult offspring shaking their heads, "Sheesh, Mom. Not again."

On this occasion, however, the line was delivered straight, and with deep admiration, as Dollase followed her husband, Wally, and their Illinois Derby winner, Ten Most Wanted, through a steady rain Wednesday morning. They were heading for the sloppy Belmont main track, and the bay colt was, in fact, lightly clad with saddle, towel, and bridle. But Cincy's point was well taken. If the Belmont Stakes were a buffed-out beauty contest, Ten Most Wanted would be tough to beat.

"I can't help feeling like we're here to spoil everyone's party," Cincy said as she dodged puddles. "A Triple Crown winner would be so good for racing."

Okay, then will Ten Most Wanted's trainer be prepared to apologize if he upsets the Funny Cide ride on Saturday? Wally was quick to reply.

"Heck yeah!" he said. Let the games begin.

This is the same Ten Most Wanted who was the hot horse during Kentucky Derby week, when he was training like mad and the guys-who-knew anointed him the logical alternative to the favorite, Empire Maker. Alas, all Ten Most Wanted got at Churchill Downs was hot, dirty and literally bent out of shape, after suffering a bad start and a thumping that required the skills of a chiropractor that very night.

Ten Most Wanted is back now, five weeks later and looking none the worse for wear. Five weeks he has spent in the benign climate of Los Angeles, where Wally Dollase was able to train him every day on a track he liked without having to deal with that peculiar East Coast phenomenon known as rain.

"We're getting wet, guys," Dollase said to a small, apparently water-repellent group of writers gathered around the trainer as Ten Most Wanted completed his bath. "I wouldn't want anyone to think we don't have the sense to come in out of the rain."

Dollase led the way into Belmont's Barn 5, reserved for Belmont Stakes shippers, where Ten Most Wanted had taken up residence on Tuesday afternoon. Pigeons cooed in the high rafters. A couple of photographers were silhouetted behind a barrier at the far end of the shed row. Cincy grabbed a small broom and began sweeping stray bits of bedding. The place had a weirdly deserted, Overlook Hotel kind of feeling. All it needed was a small child chanting, "red-rum, red-rum."

"Where are the horses?" Wally Dollase wondered. "I can't believe we're here all by ourselves. It was that way out on the track, too. There were hardly any horses training."

He was right. As Ten Most Wanted trotted off the wrong way during his light exercise, the only other creatures occupying the vast Belmont main track had been a brace of Canada geese, wandering around inside the protective cones as a steady rain fell. Clearly, they had been misinformed about the weather.

"If this keeps up, I'm going to ruin my Belmont frock," said Cincy. "And Wally wanted to take a walk in Central Park."

Fear not. Here comes the sun, or at least that was what Belmont Park officials had been told. In truth it mattered not to the Dollase family, though, for they are hard-core Californians who harbor only good feelings when it comes to competition in New York.

Wally and Cincy - who manage Ten Most Wanted's 11-way ownership syndicate - can draw on the good karma of Belmont's 1990 Breeders' Cup, when 3-year-old Itallgreektome nearly pulled off an upset in the Mile. Royal Academy caught them right on the line.

In 1997 they were the toast of Saratoga Springs - at least for a day - when Wally saddled Deputy Commander to edge Behrens in a thrilling rendition of the Travers. Then, in the autumn of 1998, they were back at Belmont with Sharp Cat, the brilliant daughter of Storm Cat who ran off with both the Ruffian Handicap and the Beldame.

"I love it here," Dollase said. "This is the way to train a horse, with all this space, and these big tracks. It's almost as if they built it with the horse in mind."

What a concept. Still, Dollase is sticking to his guns when it comes to the preparation of Ten Most Wanted for the Belmont Stakes.

"Let's face it, we'll need every edge we can take to run with horses like Empire Maker and Funny Cide," Dollase said. "But training back home at Hollywood Park, we haven't missed a day. I think that's good for a horse's mind, training without interruptions."

With that, Dollase took the shank from his daughter, assistant trainer Aimee Dollase, and began leading Ten Most Wanted around the deserted barn. On the next pass, Ten Most Wanted was leading his trainer.

"I can tell he wants something to do," Dollase said as he disappeared around a corner.

He'll have every chance to do it on Saturday.