09/14/2005 12:00AM

Can't forget about these horses


With the Breeders' Cup World Championships just around the corner and down the block, at Belmont Park on Oct. 29, it might be a good time to wonder aloud about some very good horses flying under the radar.

Saint Liam deserves every ounce of praise being shoveled his way in the wake of his cakewalk last weekend in the Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park. He is, without question, the beast of the East, with no looming competition among older horses in his immediate vicinity, and nothing bubbling up from the ranks of 3-year-olds, with the possible exception of Travers winner Flower Alley.

Saint Liam's loss to Commentator in the Whitney apparently has been dismissed as one of those flukes of nature visited upon heavy favorites at Saratoga. Fair enough. But only time will tell if it rises to the level of such precedents as Upset v. Man o' War, Jim Dandy v. Gallant Fox, and Onion v. Secretariat.

In the meantime, before conceding the Breeders' Cup Classic to Saint Liam, there needs to be a suitable explanation for his performance last March in the Santa Anita Handicap - especially since the winner of the Handicap will be in Saint Liam's face again in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Rock Hard Ten, a 4-year-old colt built by the same firm that did Stonehenge, won that Santa Anita Handicap by about two lengths over his stablemate Congrats. Saint Liam was sixth that day, beaten four lengths after a perfect trip. His rider, Edgar Prado, insisted at the time that the race should be thrown out, noting that Saint Liam was lugging in and didn't seem to handle the track.

Rock Hard Ten was running for the third time in 70 days for a new trainer, Richard Mandella. He won all three. After the Handicap, however, Mandella backed off. And while Rock Hard Ten never left the track, it wasn't until the Del Mar meet that Mandella began to crank him up again. He will return to action in the Goodwood Handicap at Santa Anita on Oct. 1, then it will be on to New York for the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"He's never had any big problems," Mandella said. "Just an accumulation of aches and pains. He's been pretty predictable now for the last three months."

Since July 29, Rock Hard Ten has been on a six-day work pattern without interruption. His most recent move was at one mile Sept. 9 at Santa Anita.

"He had a stablemate go with him to set up a target, and he went pretty nice - 1:37 and a little change," Mandella said. "At Del Mar he went seven-eighths in 1:23, out 1:37 and change, and in between I gave him a slow work. I didn't want to grind him into the ground.

"He's about as good as he could be right now," Mandella said. "I'm just hoping to get as good a race as I think we will in the Goodwood, and I think he'll be fit enough that it won't take much out of him."

While Rock Hard Ten is approaching his comeback with steady determination, a cloud of doubt lingers around the next appearance of 6-year-old Pico Central, who was last seen July 31 at Del Mar, practically eased in the Bing Crosby Handicap. The report was that he bled through Lasix.

Based on his best form, Pico Central's presence in the Breeders' Cup Sprint would add zest to a Sprint already spiced by the participation of Lost in the Fog. Unfortunately, Pico Central's best form has not been on display since the 2004 Vosburgh at Belmont Park.

After the first half of Pico Central's 2005 season was sacrificed to the Golden Shaheen in Dubai - in which he was a troubled fourth - trainer Paulo Lobo finds himself playing catch-up to make the Breeders' Cup. Pico Central's most recent work was on Sept. 10 at Santa Anita, a leisurely six furlongs in 1:16.80.

"He was off three weeks after his race at Del Mar, then he has worked three times since then," Lobo said. "I liked all of them. We scoped him each time, and each time he was clear. So now he will work again this Saturday, then the next Saturday, and then run in the Vosburgh again." The Vosburgh will be run Oct. 1.

As many as four winners from the 2004 Breeders' Cup program at Lone Star could defend their titles at Belmont Park this time around, including Ashado, Better Talk Now, Ouija Board, and Singletary.

Singletary, now 5, has raced just four times and won once since his victory at 16-1 in the 2004 Mile, most recently finishing third in the Eddie Read Handicap on July 24 at Del Mar. He worked five-eighths in 1:00.80 on Wednesday morning at Hollywood Park toward his Breeders' Cup prep in the Oak Tree Mile on Oct. 8.

"Don't get me wrong, we'd love to win the Oak Tree Mile, but we don't need to win," said Billy Koch, managing partner of Singletary's large ownership. "We just want to get him in the gate on Oct. 29 at Belmont and give him a chance.

"There's a lot of people who thought we were lucky last year, that it could never happen again," Koch added. "And to win back-to-back? That's insane. To even be mentioned as having a chance to do what horses like Miesque and Lure did is ridiculous. But if we're lucky, and it happens . . ."