04/29/2008 11:00PM

Divine Park barely misses mile record


ELMONT, N.Y. - Divine Park turned in a dazzling performance to win the Grade 3, $109,100 Westchester Handicap by five lengths over 3-5 favorite Grasshopper on Wednesday's opening-day card at Belmont Park.

The second choice in a field of six older horses, Divine Park ($7.90) settled in third early as Saint Daimon set fast fractions under pressure from Mr. Umphrey. Divine Park swept to the lead in the upper stretch, and drew off under Alan Garcia to win the mile race in 1:32.74 on a fast track, narrowly missing the stakes and track record of 1:32.24 set by Najran in the 2003 Westchester.

"We've always liked him a lot," said winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

He said the Metropolitan Handicap on May 26 might be coming up too quickly for Divine Park, but "it is hard to pass off a race like this."

Grasshopper, the 119-pound highweight, was no match for the winner, but edged Sightseeing for second.

"He just stopped," said Grasshopper's rider, Robby Albarado. "They ran 1:32 - he's not that fast, today."

Sherine sharp, but may skip Bouwerie

Sherine, who posted a front-running upset of the Grade 2 Comely Stakes on April 12, indicated she retains a sharp edge by posting a bullet workout at Aqueduct on Wednesday.

Over a main track labeled "good" after overnight rain, Sherine worked five furlongs in 1:01.60, the best time of seven works at the distance.

Sherine, a 3-year-old New York-bred filly, is among 17 nominees for Sunday's $100,000 Bouwerie Stakes, but trainer Tony Dutrow had hinted after the Comely that she will likely await a more challenging assignment.

Even without Sherine, the seven-furlong Bouwerie is shaping up to have a lively pace. Among the expected starters are Dance Gal Dance, who has won all four of her starts wire to wire; Expect the End, the front-end winner of the Gimma and Maid of the Mist at Belmont last fall; and Northern Netti, who showed early speed winning her first two starts at Woodbine.

Expect the End also worked five furlongs at Aqueduct on Wednesday, and turned in the second-fastest time of 1:01.87.

My Dinah, who rallied from far back to win her first-level allowance condition off a five-month layoff, is also expected to start in the Bouwerie. Possible starters include Sweet Vendetta, Weathered, Meriwether Jessica, and Karakorum Katie. Karakorum Katie, who has won both of her starts this year, worked a half-mile in 48.64 seconds over the Belmont training track Wednesday.

Backseat Rhythm looks back in form

Backseat Rhythm, the runner-up in the Frizette here last fall, comes off a fourth-place finish in the Bonnie Miss and will attempt to get back on track in race 8, a first-level allowance at a mile. Backseat Rhythm drilled a bullet half-mile on the main track April 23, and worked another half Wednesday in 48.11 seconds for trainer Pat Reynolds.

"Since she got home she's acted like the old Backseat Rhythm," said Reynolds. "She was in season down in Florida."

Lots of pace in sprint

A salty field of five older sprinters line up in Friday's third race, a third-level optional $75,000 claimer. Multiple graded stakes winner Bishop Court Hill, the only one eligible to be claimed for $75,000, drew the outside post and may be caught wide contesting the pace with Stormin Normandy, Abraaj, Holy Canyon, and Rondo, who all have early speed as well.

Turner connects for three in row

After the meet's first day, the leading trainer is Billy Turner Jr., who saddled Cloud Nine ($18.60), Drift King ($66), and Just Zip It ($7.80) to consecutive wins in races 4, 5, and 6.

Cloud Nine and Just Zip It were ridden by Jose Espinoza; Drift King was ridden by Luca Panici. The all-Turner pick three paid $1,620 - considerably less than a $2 win parlay of $2,393.

Espinoza completed a triple of his own by winning the ninth race aboard Mighty Morris ($18).