09/22/2003 11:00PM

First Blush has beaten tougher foes


ELMONT, N.Y. - First Blush, a graded stakes winner, and Bishop Court Hill, returning to the dirt after an unsuccessful foray on the grass, are the main contenders in Thursday's eighth race at Belmont Park.

First Blush and Bishop Court Hill are the only 3-year-olds among six male sprinters entered in the third-level allowance race, which has a $51,000 purse and will be run at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Bishop Court Hill, who will be ridden by John Velazquez and is trained by Todd Pletcher, the meet's leading rider and trainer, finished fourth as the favorite in the Select Stakes over Monmouth Park's turf course on Aug. 30.

Before that, Bishop Court Hill raced seven times on dirt, a surface that he probably prefers. A Holy Bull colt who is owned by Eugene and Laura Melnyk, Bishop Court Hill won a maiden race at Gulfstream Park in his career debut on Feb. 22. His other wins came in allowance races at Belmont Park and Saratoga. The Belmont race, which he won by 2 1/4 lengths, was run at the distance of Thursday's race.

Bishop Court Hill worked a half-mile in 48.60 seconds at Monmouth Park Saturday. It was the fifth fastest of 19 works at the distance.

Bishop Court Hill figures to be involved in the early running. He drew post 5.

The biggest threat to Bishop Court Hill looks like First Blush, who drew the rail and will be ridden by Jorge Chavez.

First Blush, who won the Grade 3 Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 3 for trainer Allen Jerkens, has competed in some difficult spots this year, including the Swale and Hutcheson at Gulfstream. In his last start, run at this condition on Aug. 20 at Saratoga, First Blush finished second, beaten a neck by Pinch Hitter. In his prior race, First Blush was part of a top field in the Grade 2 Amsterdam and finished fifth.

Turn Back the Time had a razor-sharp work here on Sept. 17 over the training track. He covered three furlongs in 35.83 seconds, the fastest of 14 works at the distance. Turn Back the Time finished in front of First Blush here in July.

No Parole, who has not won since last November, has lost his last three starts at this level, once as the favorite.

Tough Speed has never raced on the dirt in 18 career starts. Tarek, who will be saddled for the first time by trainer Michael Daggett, makes his first start since May 15.