08/08/2002 11:00PM

Celtic Sky's people exhale

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Christophe Clement and Jose Santos ended their frustrations in stakes races at Saratoga on Friday when Celtic Sky ran down front-running Reluctant Groom to win the $82,900 West Point Handicap by a nose.

It was 1 1/2 lengths back to Chasin' Wimmin, who edged out 6-5 favorite I'm All Yours by a half-length for third.

It was the first stakes win of the meet for Clement and Santos, who suffered tough-luck defeats in the Diana Handicap (Voodoo Dancer), Bernard Baruch Handicap (Forbidden Apple), and Lake George Stakes (Mariensky).

"It's about time," Santos said.

Santos moved Celtic Sky into second position down the backstretch while Reluctant Groom, under Jose Espinoza, raced uncontested through fractions of 24.60 seconds, 48.55 and 1:12.65. Santos said he was waiting for the favorite, I'm All Yours, to come into view before asking his horse to run.

"At the five-sixteenths pole he showed up and I let my horse go," Santos said. "By that time the other horse was two or three lengths in front of me and it was very tough to beat him. My horse gave a great effort, he ran a beautiful race, but you cannot take anything away from the horse that was second.''

Celtic Sky, who also won the Kingston Handicap earlier this year, covered the nine furlongs in 1:48.05 and returned $8.40 as the second choice.

It was the second straight year that Reluctant Groom lost the West Point late. Last year, he was run down by I'm All Yours, losing by three-quarters of a length.

"I think the other horse just outgamed him," trainer Pat Kelly said. "He ran his 'A' race; he ran good. He got beat a dirty nose."

I'm All Yours may have been compromised by a 124-pound impost - he conceded six pounds to the winner - and being closer to the pace than usual.

"He broke so good and it was a slow pace," jockey Jerry Bailey said. "He kicked pretty good, but it's a hell of a lot of weigh to carry around there."