04/03/2003 12:00AM

King of hill still Snake Mountain


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The seasons have changed, but the competition has gotten only marginally tougher in New York's handicap division.

That's why Snake Mountain will be heavily favored to win his sixth consecutive race - and fifth straight stakes - when he heads a six-horse field entered in Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct.

Snake Mountain, a 5-year-old son of A.P. Indy, began his stakes streak in last November's Stuyvesant Handicap over the main track. He proceeded to sweep the Queens County, Aqueduct, and Stymie handicaps over the inner track. In the Stymie, Snake Mountain looked beaten at the eighth pole, but somehow managed to run down Classic Endeavor by a nose.

In the Stymie, Snake Mountain was making his first start off a two-month layoff and spotted Classic Endeavor nine pounds. That same weight-spread (122-113) exists Saturday.

"He was a little sluggish early; maybe with the long layoff and just working all the time and the crappy weather he may not have been at his absolute best,'' said Jimmy Jerkens, trainer of Snake Mountain. "I think he showed a lot of class getting the job done anyway.''

Snake Mountain is 3 for 3 over the main track and 5 for 6 at nine furlongs, the distance of the Excelsior. The only question may be how he handles a wet track, as rain is forecast for Saturday. Snake Mountain finished fourth over a good track in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup. Jerkens believes his horse wasn't right that day, however, following a layoff. Snake Mountain hasn't lost since.

Classic Endeavor has five wins and two seconds since Nov. 2. Trainer Scott Schwartz believes a six-week layoff between a classified allowance win and the Stymie was not in his horse's best interests, though Classic Endeavor ran well.

"Last race was a little too much time between races,'' Schwartz said. ``"He's doing terrific.''

Classic Endeavor is 3 for 10 over a wet track. "He relishes a wet track as much as a fast track,'' Schwartz said.

Classic Endeavor, who gets a rider switch from apprentice Luis Chavez to journeyman C.C. Lopez, could hook up early with Tempest Fugit, who is coming off a front-running victory in the John Campbell Stakes at Laurel, and who is 5 for 6 over Aqueduct's main track.

Balto Star and Saint Verre return to New York after wintering in the south. Balto Star was based in Florida, but ran twice at Fair Grounds, winning the Whirlaway Handicap and finishing ninth in the New Orleans Handicap after breaking poorly. Saint Verre ran well in the Hal's Hope before encountering trouble when 10th in the Donn.

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