06/07/2006 12:00AM

Five supporting stakes on Belmont Day bring Grade 1 horses and many solid betting opportunities


In addition to the 138th running of the $1 million Belmont Stakes, which promises to offer numerous betting options, there will be 12 other races on the Saturday Belmont Park program, including five other graded stakes worth an aggregate $1.4 million. All six stakes will be part of the $1 million-guaranteed pick six and the last four stakes will be the forum for a $1 million-guaranteed pick four. Both of those multiple-race wagers will conclude with the Belmont, the 11th of the 13 races.

Here are some particulars on the day's stakes, including comments about the leading contenders. Post positions were to be drawn Wednesday, June 7, and past performances for all Belmont Stakes Day races will be available online at www.drf.com later that evening, with the hard copy edition of the Saturday Daily Racing Form on sale at most street locations Friday morning.

Post time for the first race is noon Eastern; post time for the sixth race - the True North Handicap - which kicks off the pick six, is 3:10 p.m.

The $200,000 True North, a Grade 2 sprint at six furlongs for older horses, is often an attractive race. This year, one of the leading contenders is an old friend, Spanish Chestnut, who set the blistering early pace in last year's Kentucky Derby before he faded to 16th. In two starts in 2006, the Patrick Biancone-trained gelding won a fast allowance race at Golden Gate Fields on March 18 and was a gritty third to Sun King in the seven-furlong Commonwealth Breeders' Cup at Keeneland on April 15.

Vicarage, sixth in the Commonwealth in his only outing of 2006, would be a serious threat if able to run back to his either of his best races in 2005, when he won the Smoke Glacken over the Belmont track in June and the Perryville at Keeneland in October. But, Vicarage will have to deal with Spanish Chestnut's high-octane early speed.

Gaff, the winner of the Mr. Prospector stakes at Gulfstream Park in January, returned from his fifth-place finish in the $2 million Golden Shaheen in March with a troubled fourth to Friendly Island in the Maryland Breeders' Cup at Pimlico on the Preakness undercard. Should a speed duel develop in the True North, he would be a very dangerous threat.

Celtic Innis need only run back to his sharp second to Friendly Island in his most recent start, when he finished second at 24-1, to be a useful exotics threat.

Middle Earth finished third to Eclipse Award winner Lost in the Fog in last year's Riva Ridge on Belmont Stakes Day. In his most recent start, in a tough allowance race at Churchill on May 4, Middle Earth had a troubled trip when a pace-pressing fourth, and would deserve a strong upset chance if trainer Nick Zito elects to start him in the True North.

Next up on the menu is the $300,000 Just a Game Handicap, a Grade 2 at one mile on the turf for fillies and mares, and the one to beat probably is Karen's Caper.

Karen's Caper is a classy Bobby Frankel-trained absentee who was extremely impressive in her first U.S. start last fall when second by a nose to Sweet Talker in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II at Keeneland. Although she made a good midrace move in the 2005 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf over the Belmont turf course, she faded badly to ninth and has not raced since. Frankel is very sharp at spotting his classy comebackers.

Principal contenders include Mirabilis, Bright Abundance, and Silver Cup.

Mirabilis, also trained by Frankel, has been a consistent factor in her four U.S. starts, and is coming off a hard-fought win in the Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs on the Derby undercard. Her stalk-and-go running style should play well at this distance.

Bright Abundance, trained by Christophe Clement, won three races on the Belmont turf course turf last year, including the Grade 3 Noble Damsel. After a third in her Calder finale April 29, she seems set for a hard try.

Silver Cup, trained by Biancone, began her career by winning three straight in Italy and comes to this contest with three straight wins in Grade 2 turf stakes at Santa Anita, including the one-mile Buena Vista, making up three lengths in a last quarter clocked in about 23 seconds. Must respect.

The eighth race is the $250,000 Woody Stephens Breeders' Cup, a Grade 2 sprint for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs that replaces the Riva Ridge. This race begins the $1 million-guaranteed pick four. Among those scheduled to run are Court Folly, Disco's Son, Noonmark, and Songster. They will have to contend with the Todd Pletcher-trained Keyed Entry and the Bob Baffert-trained Too Much Bling.

Keyed Entry, a serious sprinter by nature, defeated First Samurai in the seven-furlong Hutcheson at Gulfstream on March 4 and most recently set the pace for almost a mile in the Kentucky Derby.

Too Much Bling, also a long-range candidate for the Breeders' Cup Sprint, has been a tough horse to beat since Baffert discarded ideas of running him in distance races last fall. The horse who beats him wins this race.

In the $250,000 Acorn, a Grade 1 race for 3-year-old fillies at a mile, we should see the Todd Pletcher-trained Adieu at her best after she was second in her 2006 debut in the La Troienne on the Derby Day card at Churchill. Last summer, Adieu won three stakes, including the Grade 2 Spinaway at Saratoga and the Grade 1 Frizette at this distance over this track.

Among Adieu's most interesting rivals is the improving Hello Liberty, who won the Grade 2 Nassau County at seven furlongs here May 6 with good overall speed. Hello Liberty is trained by Larry Jones, whose stable has been going well for several months. Also worthy of serious consideration are Ermine and Miraculous Miss.

Miraculous Miss has won 5 of her 6 lifetime starts with good rallies for trainer Steve Klesaris, including the Grade 2 Forward Gal at Gulfstream in March and the one-mile, Grade 2 Comely at Aqueduct April 15.

Ermine, a stretch-running second in the Kentucky Oaks on May 5 at Churchill Downs after some early traffic problems, has the speed to be much closer to the pace in this race, and that alone makes her dangerous in a race filled with stretch-running contenders.

The 10th race on the Belmont Day card and the race preceding the Belmont Stakes is the traditional $400,000 Manhattan Handicap at 1 1/4 miles on the inner turf course, and it should feature a terrific rematch between the Pletcher-trained English Channel and Frankel-trained Cacique.

Those two high-class turf specialists finished a strong one-two in the 1 1/8-mile Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on the Derby Day undercard. Although English Channel looked good winning that race, the outcome was partly determined by the edge he was able to get in the upper stretch while Cacique was bottled up.