10/03/2007 11:00PM

Early speed a scarce commodity

EmailELMONT, N.Y. - Though Saturday's $300,000 Jamaica Handicap drew an exceptionally deep field of 3-year-old turf horses, the nine entrants all seemingly lack the one component most useful these days on Belmont Park's extremely firm turf courses.

Early speed.

Thus, choosing from among Nobiz Like Shobiz, Red Giant, Adagio, and Shamdinan becomes even more difficult as handicappers try to get creative in determining how the nine-furlong race will be run.

Nobiz Like Shobiz and Adagio appear to be the most likely contenders to be on the lead early, with Red Giant not too far off them. Shamdinan, likely the only one in this field headed to the Breeders' Cup Turf, will be the most compromised by a slow pace and firm ground.

Adagio is an intriguing candidate as he makes his first start in North America and first for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. International Equine Associations Holdings Inc. purchased him in May from Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor. Adagio, who finished 12th as the favorite in the Irish 2000 Guineas in May, was scratched out of the $750,000 Colonial Turf Cup on June 16 because he didn't make it to Colonial Downs in time.

In the summer, Adagio had foot problems that forced him out of training for most of July and part of August. In several of his European races, Adagio had gate troubles, which compromised his chances.

Dutrow said he has brought Adagio to the gate several times recently and planned to do so again on Saturday, the morning of the race. He has also worked Adagio twice on the Aqueduct turf, including an in-company move with the talented 2-year-old Big Brown in which Adagio went five furlongs in 1:02.01 and Big Brown went in 1:03.19.

"I see that the horse has done very good; I really like him a lot,'' Dutrow said. "He's got a ton of personality and a lot of talent. We'll put him in and see what happens. We'll know what to do with him after this race.''

Nobiz Like Shobiz is 2 for 2 since trainer Barclay Tagg moved him to the turf. He has attended the pace in two slowly run races, winning both by narrow margins. Tagg said he would leave the race strategy up to jockey Javier Castellano.

"He has to see what happens in the race,'' Tagg said.

Red Giant, who won the Grade 2 Virginia Derby on July 21, finished second behind Shamdinan in the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington Park on Aug. 11. After Red Giant ran two hard races close together, trainer Todd Pletcher freshened him up for this and believes his horse has enough tactical speed to be prominent early and still be around late.

"He won't be too far out of it,'' Pletcher said. "He's got a good tactical style of running. I would assume we'll be in a prominent position early.''

By virtue of his win in the Grade 1 Secretariat, Shamdinan has already secured a spot in the starting gate for the $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf. Angel Penna, who took over the training of Shamdinan after his fifth-place finish in the Man o' War, thought this race would be a better prep than last week's Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational.

"I do believe the 3-year-olds right now are a notch below the older horses,'' said Penna, who noted that the soft ground at Arlington "probably fits him a little bit better'' than the firm ground at Belmont.

Senor Enrico, War Monger, Blazing Dynamo, and Ambassador complete the field.