10/22/2003 11:00PM

First Flight appears Shine Again's to lose

Email

ELMONT, N.Y. - Seven horses will try to upset Shine Again in Saturday's Grade 2 First Flight Handicap at Belmont Park, but they will have history stacked against them.

Shine Again, a 6-year-old mare trained by Allen Jerkens, has won the First Flight the past two years, taking advantage of the race's distance - she is 4 for 5 at seven furlongs, with one second - and her affinity for Belmont Park, where she has yet to finish out of the money in 15 starts.

The only knock on Shine Again is that she has not won since May 11. But she has finished second in all four starts since then, and those last four losses have been by a total of three lengths and a nose. Shine Again will break from post 3 under high weight of 121 pounds.

Shine Again, who races from off the pace, may be most vulnerable to a horse loose on the lead. Bruce Levine, the trainer of Follow Me Home, hopes that is the case.

Follow Me Home has a career record of 6 wins in 16 starts, with four of those wins in succession at Monmouth Park this summer in five-furlong and six-furlong races. She won those races on or near the lead, and will be stretching out to seven furlongs for the first time in her career. None of the horses in the First Flight has the speed to keep up with her early.

Levine said his concern for Follow Me Home is several uncharacteristic performances recently. Her four-race winning streak was broken in the Aug. 23 Miss Woodford Stakes at Monmouth when she was beaten by 10 3/4 lengths. A turf start in her next race got her seventh. Then she returned to form with a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Safely Kept at Pimlico.

"She was just terrible," in the Miss Woodford, Levine said.

"Then we tried her on the turf, so she had an excuse, and then she redeemed herself a little bit in the Safely Kept. We're hoping she does that well on Saturday."

Randaroo, who bumped heads with Follow Me Home three times this summer, will be looking to score from off Follow Me Home's flank. Her best performances have come from just off the pace, and the seven-furlong distance of the First Flight will suit her running style. Filling out the field are A.P. Andie, Drexel Monorail, Message Red, Wish It Were, and Zawzooth.

Bowman's band turns back

Saturday's other graded stakes, the seven-furlong Sport Page Handicap, also has a Jerkens favorite. But while few reasons can be found to bet against Shine Again in the First Flight, handicappers should take a long look before taking a short price on Bowman's Band.

Bowman's Band will be supported because of his Beyer Speed Figures and his last win in the Meadowlands Cup.

But the 5-year-old Bowman's Band will be cutting back to seven furlongs in the Sport Page, and the horse's speed figures - he has posted the three best figures of his life in his past four races - seem out of place.

Bowman's Band also has plenty of competition. The Sport Page has drawn 10 horses, although the field will likely be reduced to nine by Saturday. Aggadan, who was most recently second in the Vosburgh Stakes, will probably be scratched, according to trainer Richard Dutrow.

Dutrow also brings a recent $100,000 claim, Speed Hunter, into the Sport Page. A 4-year-old gelding, he has yet to perform well in graded stakes, but Dutrow said a recent freshening has rejuvenated the horse.

The always-dangerous Voodoo will likely set the pace in the Sport Page, but, as with Speed Hunter, the horse's record in stakes races is unimpressive compared with his sometimes-overwhelming performances in the allowance ranks.

A Huevo, a 7-year-old gelding trained by Michael Dickinson, will make his third start off a four-year layoff in the Sport Page. If it weren't Dickinson, who has recently made a career out of bringing horses off of long layoffs, most handicappers would be scratching their heads. In his last start, a $50,000 optional claiming sprint on Sept. 21 at Delaware, A Huevo won by two lengths as the favorite.

Completing the field are Bishop Court Hill, Highway Prospector, Outstander, Pinch Hitter, State City, and Turn Back The Time.