10/22/2001 11:00PM

Four stakes serve as an appetizer


ELMONT, N.Y. - Handicappers can sharpen their skills for Saturday's World Thoroughbred Championships by tackling a stakes-filled Friday card at Belmont Park, which includes the $150,000 Knickerbocker Handicap, the $150,000 First Flight Handicap, the $100,000 Nashua, and split divisions of the $125,000 Athenia Handicap.

Horsemen flooded the entry box with 22 entries for the Athenia, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares, prompting the racing office to split the race into two divisions.

Freefourracing, away from the races for just over a year, and Prospectress, who has not been out in 10 months, could vie for favoritism in the first division of the Athenia, which goes as race 5.

Freefourracing has not been out since winning the Indian Summer Stakes on dirt at Keeneland last October. She was being pointed to last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies before getting injured. Before being purchased by Stonerside Stable and turned over to Neil Drysdale, Freefourracing won three of four turf starts in Europe for Brian Meehan. Freefourracing will race on Lasix for the first time and break from post 6 under Gary Stevens.

Prospectress, trained by Tom Skiffington, has not been out since winning the Grade 2 La Prevoyante at Calder on Dec. 30. Prospectress is a one-run closer and may need someone to run with Shooting Party early. She should work out a ground-saving trip from the rail under Mike Smith.

Shooting Party, who will break from post 8 under Jean-Luc Samyn, may appreciate cutting back to 1 1/16 miles after twice getting caught late in graded turf stakes at nine furlongs.

Preseli, who finished second in the Waya Stakes off a 14-month layoff last time out, could be the one to beat in the second division of the Athenia. Batique, Elegant Ridge, and Zeiting also figure to be well backed.

Each division of the Athenia includes horses entered for main-track only. Showers were forecast for Thursday night.

Bruce Headley, who will look for back-to-back Breeders' Cup Sprint wins with Kona Gold, sends out Kalookan Queen in Friday's Grade 2, $150,000 First Flight Handicap at seven furlongs. Kalookan Queen has won two straight races, but has not been out since taking the Grade 3 Rancho Bernardo Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 19. Alex Solis rides from post 2.

Kalookan Queen will go up against locally based Grade 1 winners Dream Supreme, Finder's Fee, and Shine Again. Tugger, Wired to Fly, and Ivy's Jewel complete the field for the seven-furlong race.

Sunray Spirit, winner of the Grade 3 Cowdin Stakes here on Oct. 7, heads a field of six entered for the Grade 3, $100,000 Nashua at a flat mile. Sunray Spirit won the Cowdin by 2 3/4 lengths under Eibar Coa after overcoming a tumultuous start at the break.

"I guess he was moving around a bit when they sprang the latch,'' trainer Eoin Harty said. "It was a great race for him. I wasn't worried when I saw Eibar sitting with a ton of horse. All he did was let him out a notch at the three-eighths pole.''

Trainer Bill Mott, who has had an exceptional year with 2-year-olds, sends out Listen Here, a son of Gulch who is 2 for 2. Others entered include impressive maiden winner Monthir, Brightest Ice, Major Storm, and Thunder Days.

Trainer Beau Greely, who saddles Five Star Day in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint, can get the weekend off to a good start with Manndar in the Knickerbocker. Twelve will be permitted to start.

Manndar, who is co-owned by Columbine Stable, one of the partners in Five Star Day, finished ninth and last in the one-mile Kelso here on Oct. 6. The Grade 2 Kelso, which was run over a yielding turf course, was Manndar's first race since February.

"He's not a miler and had been off seven or eight months," Greely said. "I told Garrett [Gomez] to wrap up on him, depending upon how he was handing the track. He wasn't quite ready for the Breeders' Cup this year, but there are still races in Hong Kong and in California for him. The season isn't over for turf horses after the Breeders' Cup. There's a lot of money out there."

Manndar was impressive in a five-furlong work around the dogs on Belmont's inner turf Sunday. He earned the bullet among the four works at the distance, with his time of 59.66 seconds, handily.

Last year, Manndar, who finished eighth in the Breeders' Cup Turf, won the Grade 1 Manhattan at Belmont at the 1 1/4-mile Knickerbocker distance.

Garrett Gomez has the mount on Manndar, who drew post 8.

Among the others in the field are Cetewayo, Gritty Sandie, Spindrift, Sumitas, and Man From Wicklow.

All-stars at the microphone

Friday's card, which begins at 1 p.m. Eastern, is also All-Star Announcers Day as track announcers from across the country will each call one race.

Among those slated to call are Mike Battaglia (Turfway), Larry Collmus (Monmouth/Suffolk Downs), Trevor Denman (Santa Anita), Robert Geller (Emerald Downs), Luke Kruytbosch (Churchill Downs), Dave Johnson (Meadowlands), Dan Loiselle (Woodbine), Charles Pinnell (Thistledown), and Vic Stauffer (Gulfstream/Hollywood).

Tom Durkin, the New York Racing Association's regular announcer, will serve as emcee for the day and call one race.

Another Scotty Schulhofer

Randy Schulhofer, the son and assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Scotty Schulhofer, arrived at work bleary eyed but overjoyed on Tuesday after his wife, Laura, early that morning gave birth to the couple's first child, Scott.

The boy weighed seven pounds, one ounce. He is the sixth grandchild for Scotty Schulhofer, who sends out Exogenous in the $2 million Distaff, and Chaste in the $1 million Filly and Mare Turf, in Saturday's Breeders' Cup races.

Busy week for Blanc

Brice Blanc, who will ride Queenie Belle in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, is in the midst of a hectic week. Queenie Belle is his first mount in a Breeders' Cup race, but Blanc is trying to resurrect his business in California after an ill-timed injury this summer, so he is working overtime.

Blanc took a red-eye Sunday night from California to work Queenie Belle at Belmont on Monday, flew back to California that afternoon, will ride at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting through Friday, then will take another red-eye flight that night that arrives in New York Saturday morning.

"There's not too many opportunities to ride in a race like this, so I've got to do everything I can," Blanc said. "This is a dream come true. I've dreamed of this since I was an apprentice in France. This is a great opportunity for me. She tries hard all the time. We'll see how good she is."

Blanc injured his back in an accident on opening day of Del Mar's meeting on July 18. He missed the next two weeks of the meeting, and has been trying to build his business since. That is why he returned to California for racing this week, rather than remain here. "I can't lose any more business," he said.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman and Karen M. Johnson