09/10/2008 11:00PM

Criminologist has class and speed. But her form . . .

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ELMONT, N.Y. - By standard measures of class and speed, Criminologist has an edge in Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Noble Damsel Handicap at Belmont. The one-mile Noble Damsel, scheduled for the Widener turf, drew a field of nine fillies and mares, and Criminologist is the only graded stakes winner among them.

Criminologist, the 119-pound highweight, won 5 of 6 starts from August 2007 through April, including one in a course record for 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga. She won the Athenia, Cardinal, and Beaugay handicaps, all Grade 3 races, during that stretch. She won on firm, good, and yielding turf - and recorded triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures three times, something no one else entered in the Noble Damsel's 21st running has done even once.

But in terms of current form, this is no open-and-shut case for Criminologist.

She has raced only twice since the Beaugay, each time at the Grade 1 level, and finished off the board after troubled trips in both - the Just a Game and the Diana.

"The last two were disappointing, that's why I'm going back to an easier spot," said trainer Shug McGaughey. "If she runs good, we'll go ahead. If she doesn't, we'll figure out something else."

If Criminologist doesn't fire, the Noble Damsel becomes a free-for-all among a handful of contenders with virtually identical peak races. Chestoria, Cozzi Capital, Say You Will, Trouble Maker, and Waquoit's Love all have top grass Beyers in the 94-96 range, with Classic Neel (92) close behind.

The field also includes two European invaders: Sefroua, a listed-stakes winner in France last month, and Nans Joy, who has won unlisted stakes in England and Germany this year.

Sefroua, the lone 3-year-old, has run well repeatedly on soft and heavy turf, and could benefit from showers forecast for Friday night and early Saturday. So might Chestoria, who has posted all four of her victories on the Belmont turf, three of them on good or yielding footing.

Trouble Maker and Waquoit's Love, first and fourth in the Old Red overnight stakes at Saratoga last out, may be on or near the lead by default in a race that lacks an obvious pacesetter.

Waquoit's Love saved ground into the stretch and rallied through heavy traffic as the favorite in the Old Red.

"That's the nature of turf racing at Saratoga, but that was pretty frustrating," said Tim Hills. "She has surprising speed for a mare of her size. If they give [the lead] to her and she's comfortable, that would be an option."