02/07/2005 12:00AM

How good is Diamond Wildcat?

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Equi-Photo
Wildcat Heir, shown winning the Icecapade last September at Monmouth, is being pointed to the Grade 1 Carter Handicap on April 9.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Sunday began much better than it ended for trainer and faithful Philadelphia Eagles fan Ben Perkins Jr.

In the morning, he sent out the 3-year-old Diamond Wildcat to work a solid five furlongs in 1:00.67 over Belmont Park's training track, the fastest of 24 works at the distance. By day's end, Perkins was sharing the frustrations of thousands of Eagles fans, whose team lost the Super Bowl to New England, 24-21.

Still, there's nothing like having a nice 3-year-old to lift one's spirits. Saturday's $75,000 Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct will give Perkins, and owner Ebby Novak, a line on just how good a 3-year-old they might have.

Diamond Wildcat, a son of Forest Wildcat, has won 2 of 3 starts, with both wins coming over Aqueduct's inner track. Last month, Diamond Wildcat showed the ability to handle two turns by winning a one-mile, entry-level allowance race by 1 1/2 lengths. He did so despite failing to change leads, something Perkins has been working on leading up to the Whirlaway.

"[Stewart] Elliott worked him and we wanted to concentrate on getting him to switch his leads, which he did,'' Perkins said. "We try to concentrate on that stuff all the time, but some horses are a little slow doing it. You keep at it and eventually it becomes more natural for them.''

Perkins realizes his colt will be giving up experience in the Whirlaway to the likes of stakes winners Galloping Grocer, Scrappy T, and Naughty New Yorker, but he's eager to see where his horse fits.

"They're real nice horses, and they've competed in stakes going two turns,'' Perkins said. "Three-year-olds at this time of year, this is when they come along. He's doing everything the right way; we couldn't be happier with him.''

Many of the 10 horses expected to run in the Whirlaway completed preparations for the race over the weekend. Galloping Grocer, the likely odds-on favorite, worked six furlongs in 1:15.23 on Saturday. A jockey has still not been firmed up for the New York-bred Galloping Grocer, who has won 3 of 4 starts.

On Sunday, Count Fleet Stakes winner Scrappy T worked five furlongs in 1:03.20 under jockey Alan Garcia. Trainer Robert Bailes said he was not looking for a fast work leading up to the Whirlaway.

"The main thing is I want to keep him sound; fitness I'm not worried about,'' Bailes said. "I just want him wanting more.''

Naughty New Yorker, second behind Scrappy T in the Count Fleet, worked five furlongs in 1:01.90 under exercise rider Danny Vogt. Trainer Pat Kelly has not fully committed to running, though his options are limited if he skips the race.

Other potential Whirlaway starters working over the weekend were Tani Maru (five furlongs in 1:03.59 at Belmont) and Lieutenant Danz (five furlongs in 1:01.46 at Aqueduct).

Wildcat Heir delayed by foot bruise

Wildcat Heir, winner of the Grade 1 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash last November, missed the Sunshine Millions Sprint at Gulfstream because of bruised foot, Perkins reported. Wildcat Heir has recently returned to owner Ebby Novak's New Farm in Marlton, N.J., where he is galloping daily.

Perkins said he plans to bring Wildcat Heir to New York when the weather breaks and hopes to make the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct with him on April 9.

"We have a nice galloping shed inside, so we can train him on the farm for a couple more weeks,'' Perkins said.

Diligent Gambler continues winning

Diligent Gambler, who won the most races of any 3-year-old last year, began his 4-year-old season in style by winning an entry-level allowance race on Saturday at Aqueduct. Facing allowance company for the first time after running in mid-level claiming races for all of 2004, Diligent Gambler recorded a front-running, one-length victory under Jean-Luc Samyn.

It was the 10th victory from 19 career starts for Diligent Gambler, a son of Diligence. For his last seven starts, Diligent Gambler has been trained by Leah Gyarmati for the ownership group Castle Village Farm.

In 2004, Diligent Gambler won 9 of 15 starts, tying him for most wins by any horse in the calendar year. Diligent Gambler had not run since Dec. 15 because he got loose one morning and fell on the road in the barn area at Belmont Park. He required stitches on his elbow and hind end. Gyarmati said she didn't take Diligent Gambler out of the barn for three weeks.

"He came back out of that little layoff better than I've ever seen him,'' said Gyarmati, who has trained Diligent Gambler since August. "He's doing so good; wow, what a classy horse. In the morning he's a real handful on the track. He comes to the races in the afternoon and you see him walk, he's just all business."

Bejarano begins suspension

Leading jockey Rafael Bejarano begins serving a seven-day suspension on Wednesday as a result of a controversial disqualification of the horse he rode to a first-place finish last Friday.

Bejarano was aboard Black Mariah, who was engaged in a stretch-long battle with Georgetown Gal. Leaving the eighth pole, it appeared that Black Mariah was the stronger of the two when she bore in slightly on Georgetown Gal, causing jockey Norberto Arroyo to check his horse. Black Mariah went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Georgetown Gal.

The stewards ruled that Black Mariah interfered with Georgetown Gal enough to reverse their positions. What makes this decision controversial is what the stewards didn't do last month.

On Jan. 7, the horse New Age came in on Storm Uprising entering the first turn, forcing Storm Uprising into the rail, virtually eliminating him from the race, which New Age won by 4 1/2 lengths. The stewards, as is within their powers given the scope of the rules, opted to leave New Age up, because, in their view, New Age was much the best and the incident didn't affect the outcome of the race. Storm Uprising rallied to be fifth, beaten only a half-length for fourth.

In Friday's race, the stewards claimed they could not with great certainty determine that Georgetown Gal would not have caught Black Mariah had that stretch incident not occurred.

Bejarano said he felt that, turning for home, Georgetown Gal actually was carrying his horse out, and said his horse bore in when there was open space next to him, meaning he was clear of Georgetown Gal.

The suspension was reduced from 10 days because Bejarano waived his right of appeal.

Bejarano is currently leading the inner-track standings with 55 wins, 16 more than Arroyo.