08/16/2001 12:00AM

Handy N Bold brings speed to Mile fray

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AUBURN, Wash. - While it is very much in doubt who will be ahead at the finish of Sunday's Grade 3, $250,000 Longacres Mile, there is no longer much question about who will be leading early.

That matter was resolved Thursday morning when trainer Charlie Essex confirmed that local sprint champion Handy N Bold will indeed contest the 66th Mile.

Essex had previously said that Handy N Bold, a 6-year-old son of Bold Laddie, would be turned out after his smashing victory in the 6 1/2 furlong Governor's Handicap on Aug. 5, but he nominated Handy N Bold for the Mile to keep his options open.

"I assumed there would be a lot of tough horses shipping up from California, but as time went by our horse was doing better and better, and there were fewer and fewer horses planning to ship in," said Essex.

"Now it looks as though Handy N Bold will be the clear speed in the field. A mile is not his best distance, but it's possible that he will get to set a nice, easy pace for once in his life. Who knows, there might even be a speed bias on Mile Day. If that's the case, then anything could happen."

Handy N Bold's weight assignment for the Mile is 115 pounds, two fewer than certain starters Mike K and Makors Mark and possible starter Irisheyesareflying. He could be the starting highweight, however, as regular rider Hector Ventura, Jr., has been riding at 119 pounds. Ventura has four wins and a second from five mounts aboard Handy N Bold.

"I'd rather take the weight and have a rider who knows him and gets along with him," said Essex. "If Hector can make 117 or 118 pounds, that's great, but if he rides at 119 pounds that's fine, too. I want him strong."

A field of nine or 10 is in prospect for the Mile, depending upon whether Irisheyesareflying catches a flight from Los Angeles on Friday. Trainer and part-owner John Dolan was trying to make travel arrangements on Thursday, and he was talking to the agents of Corey Nakatani, Kent Desormeaux, and Russell Baze about riding his 5-year-old.

Others who will contest Sunday's Mile are Crowning Meeting, Kid Katabatic, Kittys Link, Advantage, Prodigious, and Snohomish Loot.