10/23/2003 12:00AM

Cuvee legit pick, but not invincible

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ARCADIA, Calif. - For the past three weeks, the talk of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile has been on those horses not running. Well, despite the absence of graded stakes winners Birdstone, Cactus Ridge, Eurosilver, Ruler's Court, and Silver Wagon, the Juvenile will be run Saturday at Santa Anita as scheduled.

It will be run with a 12-horse field - seven of whom remain eligible for an entry-level allowance condition. It will be run with a purse of $1.5 million, a 50 percent increase over the previous 19 runnings.

It will be run with a legitimate favorite in Cuvee, a son of Carson City who has won four of five starts, but who must answer two questions. Will he be as effective around two turns? Can he win from post 12 with a relatively short run to the first turn?

Jockey Jerry Bailey isn't sure about the first question, but he doesn't think the post will be a hindrance to the speedy Cuvee.

"He's got so much speed, chances are I'm not going to be any more than two wide [entering the first turn]," Bailey said. "If there's somebody that wants to blast off, I can sit off of him so I'm not as concerned about it as I ordinarily would be."

Said Steve Asmussen, trainer of Cuvee: "If he's seven or eight wide in the first turn he better be Man o' War to beat a group like that. He's very handy, that's what I count on."

There are two other primary speed horses in the Juvenile. Race for Glory, an impressive restricted stakes winner, will break from the rail and may be able to make a clear early lead. Chapel Royal, a multiple graded-stakes-winning son of Montbrook, will also be forwardly placed, according to trainer Todd Pletcher.

"His strength is his speed," Pletcher said.

Siphonizer, one of three Juvenile starters trained by Richard Mandella, is the only other graded stakes winner in the field. His victory in the Grade 2 Del Mar Futurity was followed by a clunker in the Norfolk where he finished fourth, beaten 18 1/2 lengths by Ruler's Court. He was found to have displaced his soft palate in the race and Mandella has equipped with him with a tongue-tie, a figure-eight bridle, and a Flying W bit, which acts like a tongue depressor.

Mandella also sends out Minister Eric, who finished second in the Del Mar Futurity and is a seemingly natural distance runner. Action This Day, who won a 1 1/16-mile maiden race in a slow time, is a horse Mandella has been touting all week for the way he has improved since the summer.

"He's an interesting horse," Mandella said. "It may be too much for him, who knows? I don't think we're going to hurt him running him."

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has won this race five times, and Race for Glory, who won the Cavonnier Stakes, has Lukas thinking upset along the lines of Is It True, who knocked off heavily favored Easy Goer in the 1988 Juvenile.

"I'm really, really under the radar screen, but watch out," Lukas said. "He's a pretty talented horse. I think I got him really right and he's a gorgeous horse with a great mind."

Tiger Hunt won the two-turn Cradle Stakes and is a definite late threat under Pat Day. Relaxed Gesture, a European shipper who has never raced on dirt, is a wild card in the race. Trainer Dermot Weld is downplaying his colt's chances of winning, but those who know Weld will probably use the longshot on their tickets.

Many questions. Few answers. The only thing for sure is they will run the race.