11/18/2004 1:00AM

Cardinal offers many legitimate options


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - This one could be tight.

The 31st Cardinal Handicap might have the consistent Canadian filly Classic Stamp as a lukewarm favorite, but Churchill Downs horseplayers will have all sorts of wagering alternatives when the Grade 3 turf race is renewed Saturday.

The Ontario-bred Classic Stamp drew the rail and Pat Day in a full field that was entered Wednesday for the $150,000 Cardinal, and because she has been so reliable, finishing in the money in all but one of her 15 career starts, she could assume the favorite's role. But she has never ventured outside of her homeland, and with so many new faces here to greet her, you might as well throw the Cardinal wide open.

Shaconage, Aud, Nannycam, and On the Bus are a few of the more logical candidates to perpetrate the minor upset over Classic Stamp. Shaconage (post 3), trained by Mitch Shirota, already has won two stakes over the Churchill turf course, having won the Argent Mortgage and Locust Grove in the spring, and off a respectable sixth-place finish three weeks ago behind Ouija Board in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, it would be no surprise if she were to prevail again Saturday.

Aud (post 6) owns the best last-race Beyer Speed Figure, having earned a 101 in a narrow defeat in the Dowager Stakes last month at Keeneland, and has really come to hand in recent months. Brice Blanc, long known for his strengths as a grass rider, will be aboard Aud for the first time.

Nannycam (post 9) is entered off an easy tally in a classified allowance at Keeneland, where she is based with trainer John T. Ward Jr.

On the Bus (post 10) has been beating up on New York-breds, but also has the Beyer Figures and running style to match up here. She is one of two starters in the Cardinal from the barn of trainer Dale Romans, who also will run Angela's Love (post 12).

The rest of the Cardinal field is Beret, Beautiful Bets, May Gator, Finery, Chance Dance, and Noisette. Ocean Silk is the lone also-eligible.

The Cardinal occupies the customary race-9 feature slot on a 10-race card that begins at 12:40 p.m. Eastern. Also on tap are the Caressing Handicap (race 7), an overnight stakes for 2-year-old fillies on turf, and a $50,600 allowance (race 8) that drew a full field of older horses.