10/11/2003 12:00AM

Fast drill shows Gander is ready


ELMONT, N.Y. - Gander tuned up for his showdown with Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide in next Saturday's $250,000 Empire Classic by drilling five furlongs in 58.66 seconds Saturday morning at Belmont Park.

The move was the fastest of 43 at the distance. Gander, a 7-year-old son of Cormorant, is a two-time winner of the Empire Classic, having won it last year and in 1999.

"He just did that in hand," said Tonja Terranova, the assistant trainer to her husband, John. "He came home in [23.40] and went out three-quarters in 1:11 and he's doing just great."

Terranova said she and the rest of Gander's connections are excited to be facing Funny Cide.

"I think it's going to be good for New York racing," she said. "It's like the old warrior going against the up-and-coming star. We're fine with a chance to run against him."

The Empire Classic, run at nine furlongs on dirt, is the highlight of the New York Showcase card, which features seven stakes races for New York-breds.

Gander had been battling a stifle problem this year but is coming off a hard-fought neck victory over Free of Love in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on Sept. 14. The win was his first in four starts since taking an optional claiming race at Gulfstream in March. According to Terranova, there have been no signs of a recurrence of the stifle injury.

"We knew going in he seemed to be 100 percent, and we were hoping throughout the race because he had gone into the other races fine, too, and he didn't fire," Terranova said. "When the pressure was applied to him he fired and we were thrilled. He's been going good since then and so far there haven't been any signs of the stifle problem. Usually when he works like this he's letting us know he's ready to roll."

John Velazquez will ride Gander in the Empire Classic.

Weight assignments for the Empire Classic were due on Sunday. Aside from Funny Cide and Gander, others pointing to the race include Compelling World, Private Emblem, Traffic Chief, and Well Fancied.

Also working for the Empire Classic at Belmont on Saturday were Compelling World, who went six furlongs in 1:12.66, and Traffic Chief, who went five furlongs in 1:01.02. At Aqueduct, Well Fancied went six furlongs in 1:12.98.

Godolphin works two for BC

Sulamani and Mezzo Soprano, who will represent Godolphin Racing in the Oct. 25 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, put in workouts at Belmont Park Saturday morning.

Sulamani, winner of the Arlington Million and Turf Classic Invitational, went five furlongs in a slow 1:05.03 on dirt in preparation for the Breeders' Cup Turf. Meanwhile Mezzo Soprano, a Group 1 winner in Europe, went the same distance in 1:03.66 in preparation for a run in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

It was Sulamani's first work since winning the Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont on Sept. 27. Albertrani said he wasn't too concerned with the time of Saturday's move.

"Time is just for the paper," Albertrani said. "He came out of the race in great shape and he's trained extremely well since the race."

Mezzo Soprano worked for the first time since arriving here from England on Sept. 30. She is coming off a victory over Yesterday in the Group 1 Prix Vermeille at Longchamp on Sept. 14.

"She's a very talented filly and she's done very well since she's been here," Albertrani said. "She's a 3-year-old filly and this spot could come up a little bit tough."

Albertrani said both horses are expected to ship to California on Oct. 22.

Albertrani also worked two Godolphin runners who are expected to compete in stakes here in October. Inamorato, who is being pointed to the $100,000 Discovery at Aqueduct on

Oct. 29, went five furlongs in 1:02.36. State City, who is expected to run in the Sport Page Handicap here on Oct. 25, went five furlongs in 47.64 seconds.

- Trainer Shug McGaughey said that Yell, who won the Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland on Friday, would make her next start in either the $200,000 Churchill Downs Distaff Handicap on Nov. 8, or the $150,000 Top Flight at Aqueduct on Nov. 28.

- Gygistar, prepping for the Breeders' Cup Sprint, worked four furlongs in 48.09 seconds.