08/21/2001 12:00AM

'Choice' best bet: Stalking

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Thursday at Saratoga is the calm before the Grade 1 stakes storm. Beginning Friday with the $400,000 Personal Ensign, four Grade 1 stakes will be run during the course of three days, including Saturday's $1 million Travers.

In the meantime, Thursday's card lacks a stakes event. A third-level allowance, worth $47,000, serves as the featured eighth race. A decent field of seven 3-year-olds and older horses entered the seven-furlong race.

Multiple Choice, the runner-up in the Grade 3 Bay Shore earlier this year, was a good second here earlier in the meet to Crafty Runner, who won his second straight start that day.

Ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, who accepts the return mount, Multiple Choice was beaten a neck in the six-furlong race. The gelding chased the early leader, Pilgrim Road, and put up a fight in deep stretch while running gamely in between horses.

"He had to be used up early with his inside post, but he hung in there pretty game, considering," trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. "His ideal spot is stalking, if he's not the lone speed. He likes to have a little bit of a shot of getting his legs up under him for the first eighth and then he can be close after that."

Multiple Choice drew post 4.

A win in here would be nice a payback for Jerkens, who said Multiple Choice, a bit of a rogue, bit him in the back, hard enough to break the skin, a few days ago.

The early leader figures to be Snow Ridge, who contested the pace in the Grade 2 Amsterdam before throwing in the towel and finishing sixth, beaten 11 lengths by the winner, City Zip. Snow Ridge is a danger if he is left to his own devices early, because his two allowance wins this year - by 5 1/4 and 3 3/4 lengths - came when he was able to build on his early advantages.

Trainer Wayne Lukas has given Pat Day the mount on Snow Ridge, who drew post 6.

American Century, a 7 1/4-length maiden winner here last year, has been coming from farther off the pace in his 2001 races and would be helped by a battle up front.

Country Only, who gets blinkers on here, displayed talent last year by winning the Count Fleet and Whirlaway, but is winless in four starts this year after a considerable layoff.

Mountain General, a winner of his last two, and Rich in Glory and Dash 'n Dance complete the field.

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