12/27/2006 1:00AM

A champ for the blue-collar set


PHILADELPHIA - It is too late now to change, but my choice for Horse of the Year may have been wrong. ESPN's Kenny Mayne said all year that Invasor was the best. In the end, the results validated Mayne's opinion. I voted for Invasor. Still, I have this lingering feeling that it is possible a huge mistake is about to be announced.

Everybody is familiar with Invasor's record. He won four consecutive Grade 1 stakes, including the Breeders' Cup Classic, in which he upset Bernardini. It is all quite commendable.

Still, is that anything like the accomplishments of Stringtown Wonder, a Horse of the Year candidate without a constituency?

Let us compare. Invasor raced five times and won four. Stringtown Wonder raced 15 times and won 12. Invasor finished his year with four consecutive wins. Stringtown Wonder finished his year with eight consecutive wins.

If you want to go beyond 2006, the evidence mounts. Invasor raced at the same track in Uruguay for the first five wins of his career. He lost at Nad Al Sheba in Dubai. His ongoing winning streak included stops at Pimlico, Belmont, Saratoga, and Churchill Downs.

While Invasor has been staying at the Four Seasons, Stringtown Wonder has been at the Days Inn. He has raced at Monmouth Park, Gulfstream Park, Meadowlands, Delaware Park, Laurel, and 16 times in a 39-race career at the Taj Mahal of racing, Philadelphia Park.

Speaking of the Pha, I was there last week when they let the people meet the slot machines. It was all quite confusing, what with carpets, cocktail waitresses, and employees who kept saying please and thank you.

It was at the old Pha where Stringtown Wonder made his reputation for trainer Bob Seeger, the Pha without smiles, the real Pha, the Pha that gave us Smarty Jones and races for $5,000 claimers that have not won two races since the Civil War.

Yes, slot money may be coming and the purses may be going through the roof. It is going to take some time to get used to this.

Meanwhile, Stringtown Wonder continues to win. This was just another horse until Oct. 24, 2005, at Delaware Park. He was 2-for-20 lifetime. Trainer Dennis Manning must have thought he had a decent horse as Stringtown Wonder was entered in the 2003 Sapling Stakes at Monmouth. The horse finished last of seven.

He was in claiming races by the next month and stayed there, working his way down the ladder until he was entered for $5,000 at Delaware. Seeger won a shake that day with fellow Pha trainer Ramon Preciado. After three losses for Seeger, Stringtown Wonder won on Dec. 12, 2005.

In 2006, Stringtown Wonder had those 12 wins, two seconds and a fifth. He has been dominant lately, winning his most recent start by 12 1/4 lengths and getting a career-best Beyer of 98. Dave Mello has ridden Stringtown Wonder through the winning streak, which has been compiled in allowance races for which he has qualified because of his former claiming life.

The horse has won at six furlongs, seven furlongs, a mile, and a mile and 70 yards. Think Invasor could do that? Think Invasor could win at the Pha?

If you think Stringtown Wonder is one of those faint-hearted, loose-on-the-lead types, forget it. He has never won a race wire to wire. He wins the way real horses win.

Stringtown Wonder won $111,875 in 2006. Invasor won $3,904,070. Still, it is relative.

Stringtown Wonder cost $5,000. Invasor apparently cost more than that when Shadwell made the purchase after his dominating career in Uruguay.

Yes, Invasor's four American Beyers of 108, 111, 113, and 116 suggest the presumptive Horse of the Year could even beat Stringtown Wonder (93, 95, 96, 98 in his last four).

You could make a reasonable case that Invasor even deserves the Horse of the Year title. You could do that. I did that. Now, I wonder.