10/06/2001 11:00PM

Delaware Township tops Sprint prep

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Delaware Township reaffirmed his fondness for Belmont Park on Sunday while strengthening his credentials for the Breeders' Cup Sprint with an easy 3 1/4-length victory in the $250,000, Grade 2 Forest Hills Handicap before 6,210 at Belmont Park.

Hook and Ladder, who raced up close in the early stages, finished second, a neck in front of Yonaguska. Peeping Tom and Disco Rico completed the order of finish.

It was the second consecutive year that Delaware Township won the Forest Hills and it's his third win in four lifetime starts at Belmont. The main reason Delaware Township will run in this year's Breeders' Cup Sprint on Oct. 27 is because it will be held at Belmont.

"If it wasn't at Belmont we weren't going to be pointing for it," trainer Ben Perkins Jr. said. "Here you have a shot, you can get clear and come around a few of them. He's a Belmont horse.''

Under Eibar Coa, Delaware Township settled in third behind Disco Rico and Hook and Ladder who were a half-length apart through splits of :23.11 seconds and :46.15. Delaware Township came three wide into the stretch, loafed a little when he made the lead, and drew clear when roused. Delaware Township, a 5-year-old son of Notebook owned by Ebby Novak's New Farm, covered six furlongs in 1:09.49 and returned $4.90 as the favorite.

"Today, he was so sharp he really wanted to run," said Coa, who also won the Cowdin earlier on the card and who will begin riding in New York on a regular basis Thursday. "The race set up perfectly. I knew I had it as soon as they broke, I waited to the stretch until I asked him."

Trainer John Kimmel said he was pleased with Hook and Ladder's performance considering he missed a week of training with a shoeing problem and was intimidated by being down on the inside.

Kimmel said he would consider running back in the BC Sprint, "but he has to show me that he's doing well or we'll pass on it and go in the Sport Page" here on Oct. 27.

Sunray Spirit takes Cowdin

The West Coast's dominance of the 2-year-old division continued Sunday as Sunray Spirit overcame a slow start to rally from last and win the $106,800, Grade 3 Cowdin Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths. Davids Expectation finished second, 4 1/2 lengths ahead of pace-setting Harmony Hall.

In his three races at Del Mar, Sunray Spirit raced on or near the lead, winning one of three starts. Sunday, Sunray Spirit was leaning backwards when the gates opened and spotted the field a couple of lengths. Coa was content to let the horse relax and knowing he had plenty of horse, he waited until upper stretch to ask his colt for run. When he did, Sunray Spirit responded and drew clear. He covered 6 1/2-furlongs in 1:19.16 and returned 3.50 as the 3-5 favorite.

"I figured he would be on the lead and nobody would be able to run with him," trainer Eoin Harty said. "I was watching the race with [trainer] Steve Young and he said not to worry because running [22.94 seconds] into the wind would be tough for these colts. Eibar was sitting with a ton of house, he just let him out a notch at the three-eighths pole."

Harty said Sunray Spirit would not be pointed to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but could run next in the Grade 3 Nashua at Belmont on Oct. 26.