10/03/2001 11:00PM

Countdown to the Cup: The Mile (10/4)

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Last November, Brahms was not selected for the Breeders' Cup Mile at Churchill Downs when the race oversubscribed. The following day, as a consolation of sorts, Brahms won the River City Handicap over the Churchill course, sending a message that he was a turf miler to follow.

This year, trainer Elliott Walden is waiting for Brahms to live up to that reputation and prove he is worthy of a start in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Mile at Belmont Park on Oct. 27.

The test comes in Sunday's $500,000 Shadwell Keeneland Turf Mile in Kentucky.

"I think he needs to run well," Walden said. "He needs to be competitive to go on. He's had a disappointing year. This is a do or die race."

The upcoming weekend is critical for many hopefuls to the Breeders' Cup Mile.

At Belmont Park, Keeneland, and Santa Anita, important prep races will help handicappers sort through the domestic candidates.

Saturday's $250,000 Kelso Handicap, a mile race at Belmont, will

feature defending champion Forbidden Apple and Manndar. Forbidden Apple was seventh in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Mile. City Zip, the sprint star, may also start.

Manndar, who finished eighth in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Turf, will start in the Kelso but has options in the Mile and Turf, according to trainer Beau Greely. He has not started since finishing seventh in the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap last February.

"We'll run and then judge which race is best," Greely said. "I'm sure we'll cross-enter."

At Santa Anita, Sunday's $250,000 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile includes Del Mar stakes winner Thady Quill and I've Decided, who was stakes-placed at that meeting. Both lack the necessary Breeders' Cup qualifying points for automatic selection to the Mile, but would impress the selection committee with a victory.

At Keeneland, Brahms will be challenged by a large field of Mile

hopefuls, including Hap, North East Bound, and Quiet Resolve.

Last year, Brahms was unbeaten in four starts, a campaign that ended with his being placed first in the Hollywood Derby following the disqualification of Designed for Luck.

This year, Brahms has been a source of frustration. He is winless in five starts, but has finished second or third in four of those races. One of his best performances was a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile at Hollywood Park in May. He was beaten a half-length by Irish Prize, one of America's top chances in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Most recently, Brahms was sixth in the Atto Mile at Woodbine, a

performance that did not discourage Walden. "They went slow early, and they didn't come back," Walden said.

For the Shadwell Mile, Brahms will be ridden by Gary Stevens, who replaces Pat Day. Walden admits the move was made in an effort to change the 4-year-old colt's luck.

"It was a decision made to shake things up a little bit," Walden said. "It's a move out of desperation. It was nothing that Pat did wrong. Pat rides most of the horses in my barn."

Overall, the Breeders' Cup Mile remains a race in search of a clear favorite.

Noverre, Europe's top hope, is the 7-1 favorite with the English bookmaking firm, Coral Eurobet. They list the French filly Banks Hill, and Hap and Irish Prize at 8-1.

Last Saturday, Noverre finished second to stablemate Summoner in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, a result that actually led to his Breeders' Cup Mile price dropping from 8-1 to 7-1. He will not start again before the Breeders' Cup.