01/27/2005 12:00AM

Don Six the wild card in Paumonok


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - With wind-chill readings that made you wonder whether Aqueduct had been moved to the dark side of the moon, they called off Thursday's races after the early daily double.

That left plenty of extra time to prepare for Saturday's stakes action, so here are some thoughts on two of the more interesting handicapping questions of the day, involving Aqueduct's Paumonok Handicap and the Classic at Gulfstream Park.

The key in the Paumonok is what to make of Don Six, who beat a grand total of one horse in three races last fall for trainer Frank Generazio Jr., with Beyer Speed Figures of 66-65-73.

A couple of weeks after a trainer change to Scott Lake, a revitalized Don Six wired the Grade 3 Gravesend Handicap and zoomed to a lifetime-top Beyer Figure of 108.

"I told them that if he stays healthy, he'll win the Breeders' Cup Sprint," said Lake. "He's put on between 50 and 75 pounds of muscle since we've had him."

To the skeptical among us, this begs the question of what sort of dietary modifications Don Six underwent after changing barns, but in fairness the improvement didn't exactly come from nowhere. The 5-year-old Don Six had been badly off form last fall, true, but he had been a fairly quick sprinter through most of his career - fast enough to earn a Beyer of 102 in just his second lifetime start, and fast enough to lead at the stretch call of the Bay Shore and the Withers in his third and fourth outings at age 3. Moreover, he has a history of running well on Aqueduct's inner track, with a record of 3-2-0 from five starts, including a near-miss in last year's Paumonok.

Also not to be overlooked are two important factors that contributed to Don Six's revival in the Gravesend: He became the lone speed after the program scratches of not one, but two rival early speed horses, Uncle Camie and Ameri Brilliance, and the rail was absolutely golden on the weekend of Dec. 18-19.

When Lake mentions he likes a horse for the Breeders' Cup Sprint, it's hard to dismiss him out of hand, even if it is the dead of winter at Aqueduct, because of what he has accomplished in that race's last three runnings - a half-length loss at 48-1 with Thunderello in 2002; a third-place finish with Shake You Down in 2003; and last year, unofficially, a third-place finish at 60-1 by My Cousin Matt, who had been with Lake for most of 2004 before going out west to Jeff Mullins in the fall. Shake You Down and My Cousin Matt will run in Saturday's Sunshine Millions Sprint at Santa Anita.

Don Six might be expected to hold form, if not all the way to the Breeders' Cup at Belmont, at least for several races.

To recall, Lake claimed Shake You Down for $65,000 at Aqueduct in March of 2003, when he was routinely Beyering in the low-90's, and the gelding then reeled off three graded stakes victories in his next five starts, Beyering 118-118-113-108-121.

My Cousin Matt, claimed for $85,000 in September 2002 off back-to-back Beyers of 98, won three of his next five, including the Grade 2 General George Handicap, with a Beyer line of 103-109-110-82-113.

All things considered, however, Don Six is a bet-against in the Paumonok, unless the rail is again a conveyor belt to the winner's circle, which has often been the case this winter. The pace scenario looks much tougher for him this time, because of the presence of Uncle Camie and the Steve Asmussen-trained entry of Korbyn Gold and Polish Rifle. Only one of the entry will start, but in their present form either is capable of running with Don Six early.

Midas Eyes vulnerable as likely favorite

I should preface a discussion of the by admitting that Midas Eyes has been the bane of my parimutuel existence for nearly two years. When he zigs, I zag, and vice versa.

But I hope the preliminary coverage is on the money and he goes favored, because it's hard to envision him winning a two-turn route from post 11, even if he is the only Grade 1 winner in the field.

By the way, that Grade 1 win in last summer's Forego Handicap was a picture-perfect trip in a field where the only Grade 1 winners were A Huevo, who had won the De Francis third time back from a four-year layoff in November 2003 and who hadn't been out since, and Gygistar, whose only stakes win since taking a sloppy King's Bishop at 3 was the Grade 3 Westchester Handicap nearly two years later.

My key horse will be Second of June, who was among the more serious Kentucky Derby contenders last winter before suffering a non-displaced fracture of a cannon bone in the Fountain of Youth. He has been pointed to this race for months, and two workouts since last month's fine comeback effort indicate he is right on schedule.