11/02/2001 1:00AM

Harlan's Holiday isn't a sure thing


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Harlan's Holiday captured three stakes this summer, foremost among them the Cradle at River Downs.

Meanwhile, two of his primary challengers in the $100,000 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs were taking three tries apiece to win a maiden race - albeit maiden races on the two toughest circuits in North America. Yoga finally broke through with a victory at Belmont Park on Sept. 29, and Janadel posted his first win a week later at Del Mar.

On Sunday, horseplayers will have to decide which of these three favorites has the proper background to prevail in an interesting renewal of the Grade 3 Iroquois.

At first glance, Harlan's Holiday clearly has the best record, having already earned over $270,000 from five starts.

But a closer look reveals that while the Ohio-bred Harlan's Holiday finished second by six lengths to Siphonic in the Breeders' Futurity in his most recent start, Janadel was only beaten three-quarters of a length by Siphonic in an Aug. 26 maiden race at Del Mar.

Moreover, Yoga has been highly regarded by New York fans since first stepping onto their racetracks in August, and his latest win justified their steady confidence while also convincing Pat Day to stay aboard him for the one-mile Iroquois.

Trainer Ken McPeek, who eight days ago sent out Repent to a sharp second-place finish behind Johannesburg in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, has said that Harlan's Holiday is probably a cut or two below Repent. That seems apparent, given Repent's huge Juvenile effort, but it certainly does not mean Harlan's Holiday can't win a graded race for the first time Sunday.

Eoin Harty, trainer of Janadel, believes his colt is capable, too. "He's a nice horse, although not very big," said Harty. "I wanted to stretch him out, and there's nothing for him in California. This race came up at just the right time for us."

Janadel will go into quarantine for 30 days in California starting Monday before heading to Dubai for the winter with many of the other

2-year-olds that Harty trains for Godolphin Racing.

In all, 10 2-year-old colts and geldings are entered in the 20th running of the Iroquois, which serves as the main local prep for the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 24. The rest of the field is Request for Parole, Pharaoh's Cat, Gold Dollar, Trail, Shining Career, Showmeitall, and Native Mark

The Iroquois has produced some solid winners in recent years, including Ide (1995), Exploit (1998), and Mighty (1999).