08/12/2003 11:00PM

Given clean start, Cuvee does rest


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Cuvee rebounded from a tough-trip third-place finish in the Bashford Manor with an overpowering 7 1/2-length victory in Wednesday's Grade 2, $150,000 Saratoga Special at sloppy Saratoga.

Breaking alertly under jockey Jerry Bailey, Cuvee outsprinted Pomeroy to a one-length lead after running an opening quarter-mile in 21.28 seconds. He maintained that advantage through a half-mile in 44.51 seconds and drew off with Bailey only waving the whip at him through the stretch. Pomeroy, the 8-5 favorite, finished second, 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Limehouse.

Cuvee's final time of 1:15.97 was the fastest clocking of the Saratoga Special since it was moved to 6 1/2 furlongs in 1994.

"He was away cleanly and what a difference it made,'' said Steve Asmussen, who trains Cuvee for owner Ron Winchell. "He's a very quiet horse and easygoing, and I don't think he's left the gate as good as he could, and that's been the root of most of his problems, especially the other day.''

Asmussen was referring to the Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs in which Cuvee got away a bit slowly and was checked twice down the backstretch. It was Cuvee's first loss after dominating victories in a maiden race and the Grade 3 Kentucky Breeders' Cup.

Bailey said he wasn't worried about the fast first quarter-mile considering how easily Cuvee was doing it.

"As good as he broke and as easy as he was going, I wasn't going to strangle him to get him back off another horse,'' Bailey said.

Asmussen said he would point Cuvee to the Grade 1 Futurity at Belmont on Sept. 14.

Volponi fires Saratoga Cup bullet

Trainer Phil Johnson said he didn't want Jerry Bailey to work Volponi on Wednesday morning because he feared the horse might work too fast under a new rider. Instead, Johnson had Jean-Luc Samyn, a semi-regular on Volponi in the morning, guide last year's Breeders' Cup Classic winner through his final move before Saturday's Grade 2, $300,000 Saratoga Breeders' Cup.

It's hard to imagine Volponi would have gone any quicker under Bailey than the three furlongs in 34.64 seconds he went under Samyn. The move, conducted over the Oklahoma training track, was the fastest of 18 at the distance by one full second.

"When this horse gets a new rider on him he tends to work too fast,'' Johnson said. "He didn't work fast today; it'd be fast for another horse, it wasn't for him.''

Asked how fast Volponi may have worked had Bailey been aboard, Johnson guessed that Volponi would have shaded 34 seconds. Bailey will ride Volponi for the first time in Saturday's Saratoga Cup, replacing Jose Santos. Johnson announced the change shortly after Volponi finished second to Medaglia d'Oro in the Aug. 2 Whitney Handicap, Volponi's fourth consecutive second-place finish.

"I thought the last time he ran as good as he could,'' Johnson said. "I don't think he had a good trip. Maybe I'm wrong. I've been criticized for my opinion on that, but I'm entitled and they're entitled.''

Volponi will be the 122-pound starting highweight in the Saratoga Cup, run at 1 1/4 miles.

Trainer Bobby Frankel said Wednesday that he may enter three horses in the Saratoga Cup. Blue Boat, who is 3 for 3 for Frankel, is definite to run. Frankel will also enter El Gran Papa and Thunder Blitz. The former would run if it's dry, the latter if it's wet.

Others expected to run include Harlan's Holiday, State Shinto, Puzzlement, No Comprende, and Nothing Flat. Iron Deputy is possible, though his connections are also considering the Philip Iselin at Monmouth Park on Aug. 23.

Wild and Wicked may try Travers

Wild and Wicked, who suffered his first career defeat when he finished fourth behind Peace Rules in the Haskell Invitational, could make his next start in the Travers, trainer Ken McPeek said.

"We're mulling it over,'' McPeek said. "If Peace Rules goes to Pennsylvania [Derby], which it looks like he's going to do, it makes it a little more attractive to run here. The horse is doing well. I'm not convinced that was his best race last week.''

Wild and Wicked, who had won his first three starts, including the Ohio Derby, had a wide trip and was beaten 10 lengths in the Haskell.

"I thought Peace Rules was pretty dominating,'' McPeek said. "They certainly weren't real slow fractions. I don't know that I want to hook him again at a mile and an eighth. I'd rather run third or better in the Travers than third in the Pennsylvania Derby.''

Last year, McPeek ran second in the Travers with Repent, who was beaten one length by the Frankel-trained Medaglia d'Oro. This year, Frankel will have the horse to beat in Empire Maker.

McPeek's has another good 3-year-old in Best Minister, winner of the Sir Barton Stakes. Best Minister came out of a second-place finish in the July 26 Round Table at Arlington Park with a tendon injury, McPeek said. "I don't know when he'll be back,'' he said.

Deb's Charm, a good-looking 2-year-old filly who won her maiden by three lengths last Saturday, will be pointed to the Spinaway, McPeek said.

"She's got a world of talent,'' he said. "We were third in the Spinaway last year with Midnight Cry; I think this is a better filly.''

Saarland may go to Iselin

Saarland, the runner-up in the Metropolitan Handicap, worked three furlongs in 37.81 seconds over the Oklahoma training track on Wednesday and may make his next start in the $200,000 Iselin Handicap on Aug. 23 at Monmouth Park.

"I nominated him to the Iselin and that's a possibility,'' said McGaughey, who is nursing a dislocated shoulder suffered in a fall in his office on Monday. "I just have to wait and see. He didn't breeze bad; it wasn't anything exceptional. We'll see what happens in a few days.''

Saarland finished sixth in the Whitney Handicap in his last start.

McGaughey also said he is "on the fence'' whether to run Congrats in the Travers. Congrats comes off a third-place finish in the Jim Dandy.

Blazing Fury fourth in return

Blazing Fury finished fourth, beaten six lengths, in his comeback race in Wednesday's fifth race. The 1 3/16-mile allowance race on the grass was Blazing Fury's first start since he finished second in the Grade 1 Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park last Sept. 29.

Blazing Fury, the 4-5 favorite, who was ridden by Jose Santos, could not sustain the threatening move he made around the turn and tired in the stretch.

Jimmy Toner, Blazing Fury's trainer, was happy to get the 5-year-old gelding back to the races, but said running over a yielding turf course is a tall order for a horse coming off a nearly 11-month layoff.

"It was a tough way to come back," Toner said. "Right now, we'll look at another allowance race. He had to run really big to think about running in a stakes."

Blazing Fury was being pointed to last year's Breeders' Cup Turf when he suffered a tendon tear, which required surgery. When Blazing Fury was getting ready for a return to the races this spring, he injured his elbows while breezing on the dirt.

Blazing Fury's last win came in a Saratoga allowance race last year. Two years ago at this meet, he won the Grade 3 Saranac in his stakes debut.

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson