11/21/2002 1:00AM

Late-season turf treats on tap


To say turf racing is the main theme of major stakes action across the country would almost be expected on any given weekend from May through October. But it is a surprise for that to be the case on the next to last Saturday of November.

On Saturday, the three main attractions on the three major racing circuits are turf stakes. Leading the list is the $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup, the $150,000 Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct, and the $150,000 Cardinal Handicap at Churchill Downs.

The Red Smith and the Cardinal are the last turf stakes this year in New York and Kentucky, and it doesn't look like weather will be too much of a factor in either race. There is a threat of occasional rain in New York Friday, but it will take more than that to impact the Red Smith since last Saturday's Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct remained on turf after significant rainfall. Firm footing seems a safe bet at Churchill and Hollywood.

Hollywood Turf Cup

Delta Form is the most likely winner because he ran so well in his past two starts and meets no "killers" on Saturday. After winning the Del Mar Handicap, Delta Form finished a close third in the Turf Classic most recently. If he helped you in the pocket in his last two starts, you can certainly go back to him again. But, if he didn't do anything for you financially - and he didn't help me - then you're supposed to play against him. On Saturday, he'll be a fraction of the price that he was in his last two starts, and I believe that if you didn't go to the wedding, then you shouldn't think about going to the wake.

Besides, there is a trainer play here. Michael Dickinson, who should have his own wing in the Hall of Fame considering the job he did with 1998 Breeders' Cup Mile winner Da Hoss, is making the unusual move of shipping a horse to Southern California from his Maryland headquarters. The horse is Cetewayo, who would have eaten this field for lunch in his younger days. He has understandably slowed at the age of 8, but is still in good form. He was a sharp second in the Sky Classic in his last start, an effort that may look like a rebound considering he was victimized by a brutally slow pace two back in the Kentucky Cup Turf. Cetewayo loves the 1 1/2-mile distance, and his price should be acceptable.

Red Smith

Whitmore's Conn, my selection, lost as the favorite against New York-breds in the Mohawk in his last start, but he ran much better than it appears. As a closer, he was severely compromised by an absurdly slow pace with an opening half in 53.24 seconds and six furlongs in 1:18.72. Nevertheless, Whitmore's Conn rallied from eighth to finish second in an effort that suggests he is rounding back to the form he displayed in his victory at this distance in the Bowling Green last July. There is more pace Saturday for Whitmore's Conn to shoot at, and that may be all he needs.

I would include Man From Wicklow and Classic Par in exotics. Man From Wicklow had bad luck when he finished close to With Anticipation in the Man o' War and Sword Dancer, while Classic Par will be able to revert to the stretch-running style he employed in his solid Louisville Handicap.


Bien Nicole is a running fool. She is riding a five-race win streak, which improved her turf record to 7 wins, 4 seconds, and a third from 12 starts. Bien Nicole can win from way back, as she did when she won at Retama in August, or she can win making most of the pace, as she did winning at Remington two back. Bien Nicole also proved she belongs in a spot like this with an emphatic stakes score in her last at Arlington.

The problem is, even though Bien Nicole may still have something to prove to some bettors, she won't offer much value. Fortunately, I see a cold exacta filled out by Quick Tip, who comes off a dominating allowance score at Keeneland over a stakes-class field.