06/16/2005 12:00AM

Frankel packs one-two punch

In Saturday's Stephen Foster, Saint Liam will be making his first start since finishing sixth in the Santa Anita Handicap 14 weeks ago.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Ghostzapper has retired to the farm. Rock Hard Ten and Roses in May, last seen in March, are still moseying along the comeback trail. And Eddington stayed put in New York.

Clearly, with such inertia atop the North American handicap division, there exists ample opportunity for advancement - and the connections of eight older horses essentially have said, "Count me in." Those aspiring runners will convene Saturday at Churchill Downs in the 24th running of the $750,000 , a Grade 1 race that in recent years has occasionally played a key role in how championships are won.

Saint Liam and Badge of Silver, both now being trained by Bobby Frankel, are the highweights and favorites in the Foster, a 1 1/8-mile race that highlights a blockbuster program at Churchill. Five other stakes worth a total of $1 million surround the Foster on an 11-race card that begins at 1:15 p.m. Eastern.

Much prerace speculation will focus on the considerable, if somewhat unpredictable, abilities of Saint Liam, the 5-year-old horse who began his career in Kentucky before being transferred to Richard Dutrow Jr. in the fall of 2003. Under Dutrow - who recently turned over the horse to Frankel while serving a suspension in New York - Saint Liam has won 4 of 8 starts, including triumphs in the Clark Handicap here last fall and the Donn Handicap in February, but it was his most recent effort, a sixth-place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap 14 weeks ago, that has horseplayers wondering whether he can rebound to become a major player in the division for the balance of the year.

"All that we can hope is that he didn't like the track at Santa Anita," said Dutrow. "Everybody knows he's a better horse than that."

Both Saint Liam and Badge of Silver have excellent tactical speed, so Frankel said his main priority will be to get their respective jockeys, Edgar Prado and Jerry Bailey, to try to avoid any sort of ruinous duel.

Conversely, Murray Johnson, trainer of late-running Perfect Drift, said he and jockey Gary Stevens are hoping the race shape unfolds in their favor.

"It looks like it's a speed-oriented race, which is what we want," said Johnson. "If the pace is too fast, we'll be coming from off it, and if they slow it down, I'm sure Gary will have him sitting right behind them."

Perfect Drift certainly appears to be the major threat to the Frankel duo. He won the 2003 Foster, defeating eventual Horse of the Year Mineshaft, and has accumulated more than $3.2 million in a yeoman's career.

Fringe contenders include Eurosilver, winner of the Skip Away at Gulfstream two starts back; M B Sea, who retains Pat Day after winning the May 29 prep for this; and Presidentialaffair, most recently third to Eddington after setting the pace in the May 20 Pimlico Special.

Two outsiders to complete the lineup are Colonial Colony, who upset the 2004 Foster at 62-1, and Gouldings Green.

The Foster is a linchpin in several major fan attractions Saturday.

The race is part of the first NTRA National Pick Four of the summer. The $1-minimum bet features a 25 percent takeout and a guaranteed pool of $400,000, and is scheduled to close at 5:15 when the field for the Ogden Phipps leaves the gate at Belmont. The first three legs are the Fleur de Lis Handicap (post, 5:33) and Foster (6:05) at Churchill, and the Californian (6:37) at Hollywood. Additional NTRA pick fours are scheduled for Aug. 13, Oct. 1, and Oct. 8.

The Foster also will be the focus of a live, two-hour television broadcast that starts at 5 p.m. The first installment of the Emirates Airlines Super Saturday series on ESPN also will include the other three NTRA pick four races and a Royal Ascot recap from York in England.

The Foster, carded as the 10th race, also anchors two major wagers at Churchill: It is the fifth leg in an all-stakes pick six (races 6-11), and it is part of a program-ending pick four (races 8-11) that carries a guaranteed pool of $250,000.

Continuing with a welcome recent trend, the weather forecast for Foster Day is ideal, calling for mostly sunny skies and high temperatures in the mid-70's.

The field

Stephen Foster Handicap
Purse: $750,000; 1 1/8 miles; Grad 1

1Gouldings GreenM. Smith11220-1
2M B SeaP .Day11320-1
3Saint LiamE. Prado1218-5
4Badge of SilverJ. Bailey1199-5
5PresidentialaffairT. Glasser1155-1
6 Colonial ColonyR. Albarado11420-1
7 Perfect DriftG. Stevens1144-1
8 EurosilverR. Bejarano11312-1

* Track odds
* Television: Saturday, 5-7 p.m. (Eastern), ESPN