06/11/2003 12:00AM

Denon starred in opening act


ELMONT, N.Y. - The focus last weekend was on the Belmont Stakes and Funny Cide's gallant bid for the Triple Crown. In the excitement it was easy to overlook Denon's smashing score in the $400,000 Manhattan Handicap, an achievement which indicates that this 5-year-old son of Pleasant Colony is probably the best grass horse in the East this season.

Denon, who began his racing career in France, came to the United States in the fall of 2001 and drew immediate attention by winning the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby.

He learned more about American racing last year, but couldn't beat the veteran gray flash With Anticipation, who edged him in photos deciding the important United Nations at Monmouth Park and the Sword Dancer at Saratoga. A pulled muscle last fall compromised his chances in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Arlington Park.

Returning last month at Hollywood Park, Denon turned in a good effort to finish second in the Jim Murray Handicap. It was just what he needed to be at his top for the Manhattan, and he made the most of the opportunity. Racing resolutely at Belmont Park, he dealt with a course so soft that the mile time was 1:47.53. He finished strongly from off the pace as a winning favorite under Jerry Bailey, staving off a late challenge by another of Bobby Frankel's endless legions, Requete. With Anticipation finished up the track.

"Denon is a good horse and much better than he was last year," Frankel said. "It's a matter of maturity. He has all the qualifications, including pedigree. He is a brother to the dam of Aldebaran, the Met Mile winner. Denon will now be pointed for the United Nations Handicap on July 5. He was beaten a neck in last year's U.N. after encountering some traffic problems. We have confidence he will be able to cope with these and other obstacles this season."

Shoe remembers Bid

Spectacular Bid was an outstanding 3-year-old, winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and only bad luck prevented him from becoming the 12th Triple Crown winner But as good as he was in that season of 1979, he was much better the next year. He won all nine of his starts at 4, enjoying one of the greatest campaigns in the history of American racing

"He was the best horse I rode," Bill Shoemaker recalled the other day after learning that Spectacular Bid had succumbed to a heart attack at 27. "He had all the attributes of a great horse, and you could make two or three moves with him in a race. His best race? It might have been the Strub Stakes at Santa Anita when he ran a mile and a quarter in 1:57.80, equaling the world's record as I recall. He ran four times at Santa Anita that winter, and Flying Paster, a very good horse in his own right, was second four times. Don Pierce rode him and said he tried to trap me, outrun me, and take back off me. Nothing worked against Spectacular Bid."

Bid and Shoe collaborated in another masterpiece at Arlington Park. In winning the Washington Park Handicap under 130 pounds, Bid raced the nine furlongs in 1:46.60 and won by 10 lengths.

"The Woodward at Belmont was a walkover but he made it sparkle," Shoemaker said. "He was just a lot of horse."