05/20/2003 11:00PM

Good way to gauge 'Strength'

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer Chuck Simon wanted something that would tell him whether Strength and Honor is good enough to run next month in the Grade 3 Aristides Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Simon will get what he wanted. Strength and Honor, a runaway winner of all three of his races since Simon assumed his training, will face a tried-and-true group of stakes sprinters Friday in the Aristides prep, the featured ninth race on a Friday card that starts at 2:45 p.m. Eastern.

Strength and Honor, a 4-year-old colt by Carson City, returned from a layoff of more than 10 months and wowed the early arrivals at Churchill on Kentucky Derby morning. Sent away a solid favorite, Strength and Honor won a second-level allowance race with ease, furthering Simon's belief that the colt could develop into a top-flight sprinter.

The opposition in the Friday feature should determine whether that line of thinking is correct. Twilight Road, Dash for Daylight, Cojet, and Chindi are among the stakes winners who will line up against Strength and Honor in the 6 1/2-furlong, $58,900 allowance race.

Twilight Road, winner of the Ack Ack Handicap here last fall, may be a slight favorite, considering Pat Day has taken the call. Twilight Road was a major pace factor when he recently returned to action on the Derby undercard in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap, a race the gelding figured to need.

The rest of a strong field includes Roman Dancer, Mr. John, and World Trade.

The $100,000 Aristides Handicap, which also is run at 6 1/2 furlongs, is set for June 21.

May Gator tries to silence critics

Steve Flint knows what horseplayers are saying about May Gator, but that doesn't mean he buys it.

"Everybody calls her a hanger, but that's just not true," Flint said. "It seems like somebody just jumps up and beats her every time."

May Gator will get a chance to repudiate her critics in the Friday co-feature, a $52,500 turf allowance race that directly precedes the Aristides prep. May Gator has finished second or third in eight of her last 10 starts.

* In the sixth race, Stephentown, one of the more promising 3-year-olds of early last year faces six other older horses at the rarely run distance of 7 1/2 furlongs in an allowance race.

* Because racing will be conducted here Monday on the Memorial Day holiday, Churchill will be dark Wednesday, May 28.