06/05/2001 11:00PM

Five stakes on undercard


ELMONT, N.Y. - The $400,000 Manhattan, featuring the country's top turf mare Perfect Sting in her quest to conquer males, leads a strong cast of supporting races on the Belmont Stakes program Saturday.

Entries and post positions were drawn Wednesday for Saturday's 12-race card, which is highlighted by the $1 million Belmont Stakes, one of five graded races on the program.

The $150,000 True North Handicap, the first graded race and the sixth on the card, launches a $1 million guaranteed pick six wager.

Eight older males entered the six-furlong Grade 2 True North. The evenly matched field includes veteran California sprinter Men's Exclusive, multiple stakes winner Say Florida Sandy, fleet-footed Hook and Ladder, and Wake at Noon, a winner of four of his last five.

The field for the $175,000 Just a Game Breeders' Cup, a Grade 3, swelled Tuesday when trainer Joe Orseno said Perfect Sting would run in the Grade 1 Manhattan. Thirteen fillies and mares entered the one-mile Just a Game over the Widener turf. License Fee packs topweight of 118 pounds and is the most accomplished member of this extremely competitive field with more than $1 million in her bankroll.

Orseno still has a shot at winning the Just a Game with Collect Cash, who upset the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Keeneland last fall but hasn't raced since finishing 11th in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

An intriguing group of 3-year-olds meet in the $150,000 Riva Ridge, which begins a $250,000 guaranteed pick four. Flame Thrower, trained by Bob Baffert, could be the lukewarm favorite after finishing a good second in his comeback race against older horses in the Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap. Adding depth to the seven-furlong Riva Ridge are Touch Tone, who earned a 103 Beyer Speed Figure at Lone Star in his last; Express Tour, turning back in distance after his eighth in the Kentucky Derby; and City Zip, one of the better 2-year-olds in the country last year. They all will have to get the jump on Put it Back, a winner of his last four and a rocket out of the starting gate.

Perfect Sting, last year's champion turf female and a winner of six of her last seven, meets males for the first time in the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan Handicap on the inner turf. Her main foe is King Cugat, the 120-pound highweight and one of the top 3-year-olds on the grass last year with four stakes wins.

Perfect Sting gets in with 115 pounds and has a new rider in Chris McCarron since her regular pilot, Jerry Bailey, has committed to King Cugat.