10/01/2003 11:00PM

Chapel Royal, Birdstone try to make amends

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ELMONT, N.Y. - There was tremendous anticipation for the Grade 1 Hopeful when the undefeated, multiple stakes winner Chapel Royal took on the impressive debut winner Birdstone in the marquee 2-year-old event at Saratoga.

There was a tremendous letdown when Chapel Royal struggled home a well-beaten second behind Silver Wagon while Birdstone finished a less-impressive fourth. Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Champagne at Belmont Park offers Chapel Royal and Birdstone a chance for redemption as the colts head an eight-horse field that will be going 1 1/16 miles around one turn.

Chapel Royal was so dominant winning his first three starts - including the Grade 3 Flash and Grade 2 Sanford - that he was sent off the 3-5 favorite in the Hopeful. After hitting the side of the gate and racing four wide for most of the trip, Chapel Royal persevered to the lead in mid-stretch. But he offered no resistance when Silver Wagon split horses inside the eighth pole.

Aside from an abrasion on Chapel Royal's right leg, there was nothing else wrong with him.

"Any time your horse doesn't run as well as you expect, you're a little disappointed,'' trainer Todd Pletcher said. "For being parked wide and hitting the gate, he didn't run his 'A' race, but he still ran a decent race. Subsequently, the horse has trained very well and I think he'll come back and run well again.''

Chapel Royal must prove he can run a distance of ground. He is a son of Montbrook, known more as a sprinter.

"We'll have to see if stretching out is what he wants to do,'' Pletcher said. "He certainly trains like it shouldn't be a problem.''

Chapel Royal will break from post 8 under regular rider John Velazquez.

Birdstone, a half-brother to Kentucky Oaks winner Bird Town, won a six-furlong maiden race by 12 1/2 lengths at Saratoga on Aug. 2. He was sent off the second choice in the Hopeful, and endured bad experiences similar to those of Chapel Royal. Birdstone hit the gate pretty hard and raced behind and then outside Chapel Royal. Unlike Chapel Royal, Birdstone was done by upper stretch.

"The main thing was he didn't get the best of trips and he gave up a lot of seasoning,'' said trainer Nick Zito, who won three straight runnings of the Champagne from 1998 to 2000. "To me, the Champagne has always been the premier 2-year-old race of the year. I didn't know of any better way to prep for the Champagne than to run in the Hopeful.''

Zito said Birdstone has trained steadily at Saratoga since the Hopeful. He will get four-time Champagne winner Jerry Bailey.

Read the Footnotes could be the rising star in this group. A New York-bred son of Smoke Glacken, Read the Footnotes won his maiden racing on the lead and then took an open-company allowance race by coming from off the pace.

"He was impressive in the 2-year-old sale, he was impressive when he broke his maiden, and he did everything right in the allowance race,'' trainer Rick Violette said.

Jose Santos becomes the third jockey to ride Read the Footnotes.

Paddington, a stakes winner at Delaware; Dashboard Drummer, the undefeated winner of the Sapling; Notorious Rogue, Motivus, and Midnight Express complete the field.