10/15/2003 11:00PM

This group would prefer a different distance


ELMONT, N.Y. - Never mind the well-matched capacity field. What most concerns nearly every trainer of the 14 horses in Saturday's $125,000 Iroquois Stakes at Belmont Park is the seven-furlong distance.

It's one furlong longer than the standard American sprint race and at least one furlong shorter than the typical two-turn route. Sprinters are required to hold their speed another eighth of a mile; routers are supposed to sharpen up and stay closer to the pace.

That can create puzzles for trainers and handicappers, and the one-turn Iroquois is certainly as puzzling as any race on Saturday's card.

Shawklit Mint and She's Got the Beat, two 4-year-olds dropping from open graded stakes, are the co-highweights at 123 pounds. The trainers of both horses said Thursday that the Iroquois distance is not ideal for their fillies.

Patrick Reynolds, trainer of the sprinting Shawklit Mint, bemoaned the extra furlong, while Phil Johnson, trainer of She's Got the Beat, said his filly prefers a much longer distance.

James Bond, the trainer of 5-year-old Along Came Mary and 4-year-old Princess Dixie, is also not thrilled with the seven furlongs of the Iroquois. Both of his runners are proven routers and will likely lay off the pace. But it's seven furlongs, so who knows?

Whether sprinters or routers, most horses in the Iroquois have had success coming from off the pace.

But getting a successful off-the-pace trip will likely require a fast pace up front, and true speed horses are in short supply in the field. Travelator, a 3-year-old filly trained by Stanley Hough, has displayed sharp speed from the gate in her previous races, and she may be the best candidate for front-running duties.

Still, Hough is in the same boat as the rest of the trainers. "Seven furlongs is a little long," Hough said. "Three-quarters is really her game."

In Travelator's last start, the restricted Schenectady Handicap, she beat Grab Bag, ending that 4-year-old filly's five-race win streak. Unlike the rest of the field, Grab Bag has experience at seven furlongs; she has two wins from two starts at the distance, and trainer Tom Skiffington hinted that the extra furlong may mean the difference on Saturday.

"She got outrun" in the Schenectady, Skiffington said. "Maybe she bounced. The other filly ran a great, great race. But we ran well enough."

Hudson: Questions surround Bossanova

Bossanova, a 3-year-old colt whose last two races have earned him consecutive 109 Beyer Speed Figures, is the class of the field in the six-furlong, $125,000 Hudson Stakes, except for one thing: He has been off since June 28, and since then, he has had a chip removed from his left ankle.

Bond said that the surgery is nothing to worry about: "He's been training great," Bond said. Tuesday, Bossanova worked three furlongs at Saratoga in 35.40 seconds.

Nine horses will challenge Bossanova in the Hudson.

Personable Pete will be making his second start after receiving nine months off to let a cracked shin heal. Handsome Gent has improved markedly since being claimed three starts ago by trainer Scott Lake. No Parole could take advantage of a speed duel to come late. The speedy Top Shoter will try to run with Bossanova in the toughest field he has faced in an eight-race career.

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson