10/03/2003 12:00AM

Century City can upset Special Ring

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PHOENIX - Obviously, the fulcrum of the racing season comes up three weeks hence, on Breeders' Cup Day at Santa Anita on Oct. 25. And while so many stakes this weekend are considered "stepping-stones," don't let that phrase diminish them in any way.

Sunday's Grade 2 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile, Grade 2 Norfolk, and Grade 1 Ancient Title carry their own weight and are not just window dressing. And there may be wagering opportunities in all three.

Oak Tree BC Mile

There's little doubt the race goes through Special Ring, who ran so freaky-big in his Grade 1 Eddie Read win at Del Mar that he's now considered one of the BC Mile favorites. He can put an exclamation point on that here, over a course he likes, at his favorite trip. But can you really get excited about him at even money, particularly when it's obvious that his main goal is three weeks later against the monsters?

There is no such dilemma with Century City. The Beau Greely trainee hasn't been seen since the Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood in May, but the time off may be a blessing, and he has worked well for this. Here's a horse good enough at one time in Europe to give Euro kingpin Rock of Gibraltar absolute fits. Century City appeared to have his coming-out party over this very course in the Grade 2 Arcadia in April, when he blasted home to beat Gondolieri - at 19-1. Trouble is, after that he stepped up to face the big boys twice and failed.

However, Greely is telling you the horse is feeling good just by the fact that he returns him in such a tough spot. And maybe more important is the fact that he's supplementing Century City to the tune of an extra $5,000 just to run against these guys. With some toughies signed up here, the layoff, and a couple of poor outings showing, it's not inconceivable Century City offers 10-1 or so.

Norfolk

Off his extremely game win in the Grade 2 Del Mar Futurity, Siphonizer looms the favorite and horse to beat in the 1 1/16-mile Norfolk. Of course, we're talking 2-year-olds, with whom you can see drastic form reversals, particularly now that we're all heading into uncharted waters: two turns and a route.

Certainly the Bob Baffert pair of Odds On and Consecrate deserve respect, as does Perfect Moon, but the most interesting entrant may be Capitano, from the Tom Bell III barn. Besides what almost surely figures to be a generous price, there's ample room for optimism regarding the Pennsylvania-bred son of Belong to Me, and it's not lost on rider Jose Valdivia Jr.

"I'm high on him," Valdivia said. "He really surprised me with a very good race last time," when he finished second to Perfect Moon in the Best Pal at Del Mar on Aug. 17.

In the Norfolk, "we're in the same boat with a lot of horses going a route of ground the first time," Valdivia said, "but according to his pedigree and his style, I don't think it should bother him. We'll just see how it pans out."

And you'll get to find out with a generous price attached.

Ancient Title

One thing you can always count on with Bluesthestandard is he's going to knock himself out. So, when he ran seventh in the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien at Del Mar on Aug. 17, it was pretty shocking, especially to trainer Ted H. West.

"He came out of the Del Mar race real sick," West said. "That was obviously why he ran so poorly. He had a 104 temperature the next day. It took about a week for him to get over that, but he's bounced back real good.

"He's training fantastic," he said. "Physically, he's probably never been close to as good as he is right now."

With the likes of Avanzado, Zavata, and Yankee Gentleman ready to go, Bluesthestandard had better be back on top of his game - but if you still believe, at least that last running line helps a bunch with the price. After all, had Bluesthestandard won the O'Brien, he may well have gone favored here. Instead, with that "7" staring people in the face, it's entirely possible he floats up to the 4-1 range. We'll take that.

Pick four?

This game is tough enough without someone giving you incorrect information. So needless to say, readers of this space last week were surely confused when, in my effort to provide players with information on how to play a stakes pick four at Santa Anita, I was well wide of the mark in one regard: The four stakes presented at Santa Anita last Sunday did not constitute a pick four.

I misunderstood the arrangement of races and which ones made up the pick four, and I apologize to those who were confused. The only saving grace is that at least nobody lost money on my suggested wager. There's one sure bet, however: I'll do my best to make sure such a miscue doesn't happen again. You can go to the window on that.