09/28/2007 12:00AM

Discreet Cat reappears, but is he ready?

EmailELMONT, N.Y. - It figures to take an exceptional horse to win a Grade 1 stakes like the Vosburgh off just one race - a last-place finish at that - in 10 months. The question facing handicappers is, How exceptional is Discreet Cat?

Discreet Cat was certainly exceptional last year, winning the Grade 1 Cigar Mile in a track-record time of 1:32.46. But that was his third race in two months, all tremendous performances.

Sunday, Discreet Cat makes his first start since finishing last in the $6 million Dubai World Cup at Nad Al Sheba. He was found to have a severe throat infection that kept him out of serious training until August. He comes into the six-furlong Vosburgh with five published works and will meet a quality field that includes the speedy Talent Search, Fabulous Strike, Mach Ride, and First Defence.

"This race is obviously coming up a heck of a race with all the pace that's in there," said Rick Mettee, Godolphin Racing's New York assistant trainer. "You'd probably like him a little more at seven [furlongs] than six, but it's just good to get him back in a Grade 1."

The $400,000 Vosburgh is part of the "Win and You're In" Breeders' Cup Challenge. The winner of this race earns an automatic berth in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Sprint at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27. However, Discreet Cat's connections are just as likely to point to the $1 million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile the day before.

Discreet Cat has a lot of natural speed. But jockey Garrett Gomez harkens back to Discreet Cat's return race last year at Saratoga when he rated early and still came home fast to win a seven-furlong allowance.

"If he's like himself, like when I rode him at Saratoga, I'll be smiling from ear to ear," said Gomez, who rides Discreet Cat from post 4.

From Nov. 21 to June 2, Fabulous Strike ran Beyer Speed Figures between 115 and 119, winning four consecutive sprints at Mountaineer and Churchill Downs. He finished fifth in the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder, but came out of that race with a case of the thumps, an electrolyte imbalance, according to trainer Todd Beattie.

Beattie is confident the horse is over his problems and expects a big effort from Fabulous Strike, who is 2 for 3 at Belmont. Breaking from the rail, he'll more than likely have to go to the lead, but Beattie believes he can rate if need be.

Since trainer Steve Standridge added blinkers to his equipment, Mach Ride has won the Smile Sprint Handicap and an overnight sprint stakes at Calder, both on the front end.

"I think the blinkers and not taking him back have helped him; we were trying to rate him a little bit too much in some of his races," Standridge said. "He's doing really well. I'm pretty happy the way he's trained. He's sound and he's pretty happy right now. As far as the competition, it's a salty race, obviously, with Discreet Cat and some of the others in there, but he's run with some really good horses before. I think he belongs."

First Defence ran with Hard Spun for most of the way in the Grade 1 King's Bishop before giving way late. Trainer Bobby Frankel believes that experience may help First Defence in this spot.

"Sometimes being in a tough battle and having plenty of time is good for them," Frankel said. "It gets them to a fitness level you can't get to by training."

Park Avenue Ball appears to be the most legitimate closer in the field and did win the Grade 2 Futurity over this track at age 2. Will He Shine, who won the True North here on Belmont Stakes Day, and E Z Warrior, third in the King's Bishop, complete the field.