05/05/2004 11:00PM

Coast looks clear for Bending Strings


ELMONT, N.Y. - There was no catching Society Selection in the Grade 3 Comely at Aqueduct last month, but Bending Strings came the closest.

Bending Strings doesn't have to worry about Society Selection in Saturday's $200,000 at Belmont Park, and there are no standouts among her eight rivals.

In the Comely, Bending Strings finished second, beaten three lengths by Society Selection, a Grade 1 winner. Bending Strings made the lead around the turn in the one-mile Comely but was passed by Society Selection with a furlong remaining.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is looking forward to running Bending Strings at seven furlongs in the Grade 2 Nassau County.

"I think the turnback is a big plus," McLaughlin said. "We were very happy with her last race, and she has trained well since. We're excited about her."

Last Sunday at Belmont, Bending Strings worked a half-mile in 47.64 seconds, the fastest of 28 works at the distance on the main track.

Jerry Bailey picks up the mount on Bending Strings, who drew post 2.

Trainer Todd Pletcher entered three horses, but will run two at the most. Cherry Bomb and Frenchglen are coupled in the wagering. John Velazquez was named on both fillies, and it's expected that if the track is fast, Cherry Bomb will start. If the track is wet - and rain is in the forecast - Frenchglen, a 12-length winner in the slop at Keeneland, would run.

Pletcher also entered Forestier, an easy winner of a first-level allowance race at Aqueduct in March.

An intriguing runner is Grey Traffic, who will make her first start for trainer Bobby Frankel. After winning a six-furlong maiden race by 9 1/2 lengths April 4 at Santa Anita, Grey Traffic was purchased by John Amerman. Frankel won nine stakes at this meet last year.

A Lulu Ofa Menifee was a disappointment in her first start for Lael Stables and trainer Barclay Tagg, when she finished last in the Grade 3 Comely after looming boldly around the turn. Before Lael purchased A Lulu Ofa Menifee, she won a two-turn allowance race by 8 1/2 lengths at the Fair Grounds and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 99.

Robin Smullen, Tagg's assistant, said one possible explanation for the poor effort in the Comely was A Lulu Ofa Menifee's training schedule coming into the race.

"She was trained lightly because of all the traveling she did - from Fair Grounds to Florida to here," Smullen said. "Now that she is on our [training] schedule, it will be interesting to see how she runs. Maybe we can get some pretty quick fractions, and she can beat them down the lane."

Stewart Elliott, who won Kentucky Derby aboard Smarty Jones a week ago, will be in town to ride Whirlwind Charlott, who was fourth in Aqueduct's Grade 3 Cicada.

Gygistar might run in Met Mile

After Gygistar's 4 1/4-length win in Wednesday's Grade 3 Westchester Handicap, trainer Mark Hennig said he is considering running Gygistar back in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Mile on May 31. The Westchester was Gygistar's first stakes win since the Grade 1 King's Bishop in August 2002.

A one-mile race, the Westchester was Gygistar's first start beyond seven furlongs since July 2002, when he won the 1 1/16-mile Dwyer Stakes. Hennig said further opportunities to run Gygistar in a distance race proved difficult because Gygistar had a series of physical setbacks.

"When he was three, I didn't see any reason why he wouldn't stretch out," Hennig said. "But circumstances set him back. After he won the Dwyer, he got sick so the King's Bishop became our next goal because we didn't want to run him long in his first race back."

If he starts in the $750,000 Met Mile, Gygistar is likely to meet a strong field, which is expected to include Pico Central and Strong Hope, the winner and runner-up in the Grade 1 Carter, and possibly Speightstown, who won the Churchill Downs Handicap on May 1.

Pletcher points West Virginia to Mike Lee

West Virginia, who won a division of the New York Stallion Stakes - the Times Square - at Aqueduct last month, is being pointed to the $100,000 Mike Lee Stakes on June 26.

By winning the Times Square, West Virginia became eligible to win a $100,000 bonus for his owners, Don and Mary Zuckerman. The bonus links the Great White Way, which West Virginia won in November; the Times Square; and the Cab Calloway at Saratoga on Aug. 5.

"We're going to concentrate on getting him to [the Cab Calloway] the best way we can," said Pletcher, West Virginia's trainer. "We might find a race for him before the Mike Lee."