01/20/2005 1:00AM

Cologny will grab lead and keep it

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NEW YORK - Saturday is a fairly light stakes day across the nation, with only three graded events and five races with six-figure purses.

The richest and highest-graded race is the Grade 2, $150,000 San Marcos Stakes at Santa Anita for older males on the turf.

The other graded stakes Saturday are the Grade 3, $100,000 The First Lady Handicap for filly and mare sprinters at Gulfstream Park and the $100,000 Aqueduct Handicap.

Meanwhile, the two other six-figure stakes are the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup Handicap at Sam Houston, which also has two $50,000 stakes on its card, and the $125,000 La Senora Handicap at Sunland Park, which is restricted to New Mexico-bred fillies.

The First Lady Handicap

Savorthetime, Ebony Breeze, Feline Story, and Expect an Angel are on paper the most logical horses to win this race, and that will certainly be evident in the betting. Each has questions to answer, however, which makes taking low odds on them unpalatable. Savorthetime is a tiger in listed stakes, but has found the going much more difficult at the graded stakes level. Ebony Breeze had trouble and was unsuited to the track surfaces in her last three starts, but with the way her Beyer Speed Figures have sharply tailed off, it's fair to wonder if she hasn't lost a few steps. Feline Story has developed a real problem getting out of the gate well, and Expect an Angel improved so sharply winning the Chaposa Springs last time out that it's easy to think it was due to a sloppy track.

The most striking thing about this race is the lack of early speed, and that, along with the questions about her rivals, is why I'm going with Cologny.

Cologny's last race, in the Garland of Roses, doesn't look good because she was uncharacteristically denied the early lead. She is usually in front, though, and she turned in three big efforts before that, including a huge win in the Montclair State at The Meadowlands. Although she is certainly capable of it, Cologny doesn't have to go 44-and-change to control the pace in this spot, and that should make her all the tougher to catch. Wire to wire.

American Beauty Stakes

This race at Oaklawn came up pretty salty for a $50,000 stakes, but as in The First Lady, a couple of the favorites have issues that make it worth trying to beat them.

If Josh's Madelyn runs back to either of her last two starts, she'll probably win. At the same time, I don't like it when a horse runs by far the two best races of her life, as she did, and then isn't seen in public for three months. Souris also brings good form into this, but often comes up short when in with opponents with real ability.

I like Saltwater Runner, even though she hasn't raced since early June. Every time she has had to - in her career debut and the two times she raced off layoffs - Saltwater Runner won off workouts. She won the Dixie Belle at Oaklawn a year ago, she still has room to improve, and should get an honest pace to rally into.

San Marcos Stakes

License to Run ran a very big race when third early last month in the Hollywood Turf Cup in his North American debut, and, with the expectation that he is likely to run better this time, this Group 1 winner in his native Brazil is a solid play.

Against a field stronger than the one he faces here, a field that included Breeders' Cup Turf winner Better Talk Now, License to Run was forwardly placed off a slow early pace in the Turf Cup. For some reason, he began to fall back down the backstretch and was last of nine going into the far turn the final time. License to Run then regained focus, launched a bold rally into the stretch, and finished fastest of all down the middle of the track after lugging in briefly.