07/01/2002 12:00AM

A handicapper's nightmare


ELMONT, N.Y. - There are only six horses entered in Wednesday's featured eighth race at Belmont Park, but pick-six players chasing the $67,834 carryover may have a hard time throwing any of the sextet out.

Runners from several hot barns and a couple of intriguing horses from cold outfits make up the third-level allowance field contesting seven furlongs.

If the race were six furlongs, trainer Nick Zito would like his chances with Tarek a lot better. Tarek has run two strong races since Zito brought him back off a four-month layoff. On May 8, Tarek set the pace for the opening-half mile before finishing third behind the graded-stakes winning Volponi in a seven-furlong classified allowance heat.

A month later, Tarek came from off the pace to win a second-level allowance by 3 1/2 lengths while earning a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 110.

"His best distance is six furlongs,'' Zito said. ` "Seven [furlongs] is a little bit of a concern.''

It's hard to evaluate Tarek off his three seven-furlong races in which he has run. As a 3-year-old, he finished second to D'wildcat in the Swale Stakes, but was beaten 10 1/2 lengths. In the Lafayette, he bobbled at the start and was never in the race while finishing a well-beaten fifth.

In the May 8 race, Tarek may have been a bit too fresh while racing on the lead.

Trainer Scott Lake is another who probably wishes this race were run at six furlongs. Lake sends out Tom's Thunder, who has looked good winning a pair of six-furlong races in his last two starts. He has not hit the board in three races at seven furlongs.

The last time the Frank Alexander-trained Cherokee Prospect ran seven furlongs at Belmont he went gate to wire to win a second-level allowance race while running the distance in 1:22. But, he's 0 for 7 since.

Gratien and Sing Me Back Home are multiple winners at seven furlongs. Trainers Rich Schosberg and Allen Iwinski, however, are a combined 2 for 42 at this meet.

Gratien, a New York-bred, makes his first start in 11 months. In two seven-furlong races last summer, Gratien won a New York-bred maiden race by 10 3/4 lengths and a entry-level statebred allowance by six lengths. Both times he had Jerry Bailey aboard. Schosberg has named Bailey to ride Wednesday.

Sing Me Back Home was second to Summer Note here on May 17 and then finished second in the Wilmington Handicap at Delaware Park. Apprentice Victor Carrero, who has ridden eight winners the last six racing days, has the call.

Abreeze won a $35,000 claiming race by 12 lengths for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who is 8 for 29 this meet.