07/05/2006 11:00PM

Last-minute diplomacy saves U.N.

Adam Coglianese / NYRA
Cacique beat Relaxed Gesture (2) by a head in the Manhattan, and English Channel (rail) was fourth.

OCEANPORT, N.J. - All week, the Grade 1, $750,000 on Saturday at Monmouth Park shaped up as an excellent race. But the ominous cloud of the New Jersey state government shutdown cast the shadow of a possible cancellation.

The danger appeared to pass Thursday afternoon as Gov. Jon Corzine and the legislators hammered out a budget deal that should allow Monmouth to reopen by Saturday.

Now it's full speed ahead for the U.N., the premier turf event of the Monmouth meet.

The U.N. has attracted one of its best fields in recent years, including four Grade 1 winners: Better Talk Now, Cacique, English Channel, and Relaxed Gesture. Silverfoot, Ramazutti, and Shake the Bank complete the lineup for the 1 3/8-mile race.

"It's obviously a very tough race, but for a $750,000 Grade 1, it usually is," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who sends out English Channel and Ramazutti.

The U.N. attracted three of the first four finishers from the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap on the Belmont Stakes undercard.

Cacique fought bravely to hold on for a head victory in the Manhattan. It was the first win in three U.S. starts, all Grade 1's, for the Irish-bred 5-year-old, who began his career in Europe and is now trained by Bobby Frankel.

After the Manhattan, Frankel considered training Cacique up to the Arlington Million on Aug. 12 but changed his mind when the horse "came out of the race very good."

"Even if he gets beat, it won't hurt him for the Arlington Million," Frankel said. "It might help him going a mile and three-eighths and then cutting back to a mile and a quarter."

Relaxed Gesture won the Grade 1 Canadian International at Woodbine last October. He was a hard-luck loser in the Manhattan as jockey Kent Desormeaux dropped the whip in the stretch.

English Channel battled Cacique for the lead in the Manhattan and finished fourth, beaten only a half-length.

The Manhattan was a paceless affair run on a yielding course, but there should be plenty of pace Saturday. Better Talk Now is back to defend his U.N. title, and Shake the Bank, his stablemate and rabbit, is coming too. The pair will race as separate betting interests.

The grand old man in the race at 7, Better Talk Now is most effective when he drops back early and makes a strong stretch run.

Shake the Bank allows him that luxury. In last year's U.N., Better Talk Now dropped 20 lengths behind as Shake the Bank coasted along with a 15-length lead on the pack.

After the rabbit did his job, Better Talk Now kicked into high gear to beat Silverfoot by three-quarters of a length.

"He's always been a horse that tended to be a little rank in his races," trainer Graham Motion said of Better Talk Now. "Between having Shake the Bank to ensure an honest pace and him aging a little bit, that's really been the key."

A strong pace also benefits Silverfoot.

For a second straight year, Silverfoot comes into the U.N. fresh off a victory in the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs.

The U.N. will anchor a $100,000-guaranteed pick four on races 7-10.

* High Blitz goes for a second straight Monmouth stakes win Saturday in the $65,000 Mr Prospector Stakes at six furlongs.

- additional reporting by David Grening

The field

United Nations Stakes
Purse: $750,000; 1 3/8 miles, turf; Grade 1

1English ChannelJ. Velazquez1223-1
2SilverfootM. Guidry1186-1
3Relaxed GestureK. Desormeaux1184-1
4Better Talk NowR. Dominguez1205-2
5CaciqueE. Prado1222-1
6Shake the BankT. Turner11850-1
7RamazuttiC. DeCarlo11820-1

* Odds by Art Gropper
* Television: Saturday, 7-8 p.m. (Eastern), ESPN