10/27/2005 11:00PM

Defending champ Singletary still an underdog

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Trainer Don Chatlos (above) said Singletary is not guaranteed to like soft turf at Belmont. Bobby Frankel, who trains Leroidesanimaux, said he wasn't too worried about the footing.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Early Tuesday morning, Singletary, the Breeders' Cup Mile winner of 2004, deplaned after flying to New York from California, rode on a van to Belmont Park, and walked straight into the den of the lion.

Maybe it was a trick of fate, maybe a racing official with a sense of drama, but Singletary is stabling during his Breeders' Cup stay in the barn of Bobby Frankel. And that's where Leroidesanimaux lives.

Singletary is here to defend his title, but Leroidesanimaux is supposed to take it away from him. And even without the stellar crop of Europeans expected for the Mile six weeks ago, that face-off alone lends substance to what should be a compelling race.

Twelve horses were entered in the Mile, with Three Valleys a Wednesday defection. After supplementary entry fees from four horses - including Leroidesanimaux - are figured into the purse, the 2005 Mile will be worth $2,025,000 if all start. The Mile goes as race 7, with post time scheduled for 3:45 p.m. Eastern.

Leroidesanimaux is hard to miss. His chestnut coat has been on high shine all week, and fans will find him in his usual spot near the front end of the race. No horse besides Lure in 1992 has led all the way in the Mile, and Leroidesanimaux might not make the pace. Sand Springs, who sometimes can be confused with a runaway freight train, has drawn inside the heavy favorite, and could wind up in front.

"If she feels like going off and going to the lead, you're better off not fighting her," said trainer Bill Mott.

Lead or press - it doesn't matter to Frankel. Leroidesanimaux, winner of eight straight races, has been on the lead in his last three starts, including a 7 3/4-length demolition of the Grade 1 Atto Mile six weeks ago, but he has raced effectively from off the pace, too.

"He could be sitting second, could be on the lead," Frankel said.

The New Yorker Artie Schiller, among the best middle-distance turf horses on the East Coast the last two years, also has pace. But trainer Jimmy Jerkens expects him to go slower than in the Kelso Handicap, where Artie Schiller pressed a hot pace and was passed in deep stretch by Funfair. Garrett Gomez subs for the injured Richard Migliore aboard Artie Schiller on Saturday.

Singletary's 2005 season unfolded slowly, but he won the Oct. 8 Oak Tree Mile in a waltz, and looks just as good coming into this race as he did before last year's Mile. A friend of trainer Don Chatlos watched Singletary come through the stretch in a recent workout at Hollywood Park, and quickly sent Chatlos a text message: "You're ready to rock New York!"

While Singletary kicks late, Chatlos doesn't want jockey David Flores to wait too long to move. "I'd like to see him run to the lead at the top of the stretch rather than creeping up on them," Chatlos said.

Six days after Funfair pulled his Kelso surprise, Host upset the Shadwell Mile at odds of 10-1. Host had been off since last winter, when a bone chip was removed from his ankle, and trainer Todd Pletcher believes he can repeat his Shadwell performance Saturday.

The 2005 European contingent was partially de-fanged by injury, retirement, and Starcraft's entry in the Classic, but there still are good overseas horses in the Mile. Whipper was 10th in the 2004 Mile, but is capable of better and was on his toes during routine training Wednesday. Valixir, who, like Whipper, is based in France, might be the most talented of the Europeans, but must bounce back from a subpar performance Sept. 4 in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp.

"These are tough races to win," said trainer Andre Fabre. "He's going to have to run well. I cannot guarantee anything else."

What is guaranteed is a wet turf course that some horses will have trouble handling. Singletary won over yielding turf last year at Lone Star, but Chatlos is convinced a sodden Belmont course will be much different.

"Because he handled yielding at Lone Star doesn't mean he'll like it at Belmont," he said.

Leroidesanimaux won the Atto Mile on a yielding course, and got over the Belmont course well in a Monday workout.

"It's going to be soft, but I'm not too worried about it," Frankel said.

Leroidesanimaux wore bar shoes during the recent work, but will be reshod in regular racing plates Saturday morning. Most will expect them to carry him to victory - and a potential Eclipse Award as turf champion.