10/20/2004 11:00PM

Galloping Grocer working faster than foes race


ELMONT, N.Y. - Package a bundle of stakes races on one card, most of which will decide divisional championships, and what do you have?

Well, next week you would have the Breeders' Cup, but the correct answer this week is New York Showcase Day, where seven stakes worth a total of $1 million are on the final Saturday program of Belmont Park's fall meeting.

The key handicapping points, chronologically by race order:

Sleepy Hollow: Recent history says if you're looking to for a glimpse at next spring's leading Kentucky Derby contenders, there's a better chance of seeing one in this race than the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Funny Cide won it in 2002, and last year's winner was Friends Lake, the upset winner of the Florida Derby. (His half-sister, Seeking the Ante, runs in the second race against maidens).

In past years, the Maid of the Mist started the stakes lineup, but the order was changed and the Sleepy Hollow leads off, presumably because singling Galloping Grocer at 1-5 in the pick six would have been too easy.

Galloping Grocer came within .17 seconds of Saratoga's five-furlong track record first time out, and was 1-20 when he came back to win an allowance race by a similarly lopsided margin, with rider John Velazquez working him out an additional furlong in 13.10 seconds.

Since then, Galloping Grocer has worked six furlongs in 1:11.60, which is faster than his five rivals have run in actual races.

Maid of the Mist: Trainer Todd Pletcher has won three of the last six runnings, but this year has only Tiffany Touch, who to this point is one of the two slowest fillies in the race along with No Way No How.

Megascape, whose only loss came in open company against the Frizette runner-up, Ready's Gal, looms the probable favorite after wiring several of these in the Gimma, but she is no slam-dunk stretching to a mile and giving weight to rivals. Social Virtue finished well for second in the J.A. Gimma, which was only her second career start, and now gets first-time Lasix.

Iroquois: Yankees' manager Joe Torre has had a lousy week, but it may improve a bit here because he is part-owner of Sugar Punch, a 3-year-old filly who has won all five of her 2004 starts, capped by a convincing score in last month's Schenectady Handicap.

Sugar Punch has been earning Beyer Speed Figures in the upper 90's lately, but got only a 79 for her win at seven furlongs here in July, a potential chink in her armor.

So Sweet a Cat has terrorized Finger Lakes all year and will probably be the second choice as she turns back from three straight route wins.

Another intriguing turnback prospect is Fleet Indian, who reeled off four straight wins to begin her career, then ran a respectable fifth in the Alabama in the slop. Her only start since was a pacesetting try at 1 1/16 miles against open allowance fillies, and she held well against the grain of a closers' track to lose by a half-length to Sweet Lips, who came back to and won her next condition at Keeneland.

Mohawk: Those not wishing to be knocked out in the first leg of the $400,000-guaranteed pick four may want to include Quiet Ruler, who won the last two runnings of this race at mutuels of $93 and $42.80. He caught soft turf for each of those upsets, and he figures to get a course no better than yielding after some rain earlier this week. Don't say you weren't warned.

Irish Colonial, last and beaten 36 lengths as the Mohawk favorite a year ago when coming off a layoff, has handled rain-softened turf in the past and comes off a sharp finish to miss second by a nose in the Ashley T. Cole. He is more formidable this time around.

Golden Commander was the stronger half of a favored entry in the Cole and failed to fire, but reportedly came out of the race with a minor stifle injury that has since healed. Any of his four prior efforts make him the field's strongest finisher, though he is winless from seven starts on turf at Belmont.

The up-and-comer is Save the Profit, a 3-year-old Hennessy colt who makes his stakes debut for Pletcher after winning both of his allowance conditions by open lengths.

Hudson: Friendly Island, Clever Electrician, Uncle Camie, and Top Shoter are closely matched in this sprint, which promises a fast pace because those four like to be involved in the early running.

The beneficiary of a pace meltdown, and at a square price, could be Papua. Winner of the Hollie Hughes's last two runnings - his last two state-bred starts - Papua is fast enough on his best race and has a closing style well suited to this matchup.

Ticonderoga: Kate Winslet, a long-distance runner in France, was purchased by Team Valor Stables after beating males six weeks ago, and she adds international intrigue to an already complicated grass route. The comment lines from her French races indicate she likes to lead early and can be rank when denied that position, so the presence of speedball Ma Femme may make for a difficult scenario. Look for this race to be won by a closer, the best of which are On the Bus and Sabellina.

Empire Classic: The 3-year-olds West Virginia and Chowder's First waged war through the stretch of Saratoga's New York Stallion Stakes when separated by a neck at the wire, and appear to have a slight edge over the rest.