05/31/2001 11:00PM

Lazy Slusan is in the right spot - again

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PHOENIX - Odds are that if you see trainer John Dolan he'll have a big smile on his face. And why not? He's had unusual success with two recent claims, similar to what trainer Pat Reynolds has done with Peeping Tom.

Dolan claimed the turf horse Irisheyesareflying a few months back and turned him into a graded stakes performer on dirt. But his best move was claiming the mare Lazy Slusan for $62,500 last July.

There was little reason to think Lazy Slusan would get dramatically better or worse; it seemed a safe but inconsequential claim.

Instead, Lazy Slusan has become one of the best claims in years. This winter she became a Grade 1 winner when she ran down a field that included Surfside, Feverish, Lovellon, and Critikola in the Santa Margarita. She came back and finished third in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn in April.

Since then, she has romped in the B. Thoughtful, a sprint for Cal-breds at Hollywood Park, and that sets her up beautifully for Sunday's Grade 1 Milady Handicap there.

In the Milady field are Feverish, up-and-comer La Ronge, and invaders Lady Melesi and Frankly My Dear. But several top horses will miss the race: Gourmet Girl is out with a cough, Lovellon is just coming back from injury, and Hawthorne Handicap winner Printemps is nursing a sore back.

Lazy Slusan is no Riboletta or Manistique. But unlike in recent years, the West Coast has no dominating older female, and Lazy Slusan has run well all year. She has a warrior attitude and she's rugged, and that's why she's won 11 of her 43 races.

The 1 1/16-mile Milady sets up well for Lazy Slusan. Feverish has quality and speed, but she keeps finding Grade 1 company too much to handle. The front-running Feverish is likely to have company up front. La Ronge, who has impressed with some nice wire-to-wire wins for trainer Neil Drysdale, has speed, although her jockey, Chris McCarron, probably won't let her go too fast early.

Lady Melesi and Frankly My Dear are nice horses, but they must ship across country and race on a new surface.

Nothing seems to bother Lazy Slusan. She'll sit in midpack early, then launch her charge turning for home. Odds are that Dolan will still be smiling after the Milady Handicap.

An intriguing Belmont undercard

Sure, the Belmont is the highlight next Saturday at Belmont, but three other races there may hold more intrigue. The Riva Ridge, for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs, is particularly interesting.

At the start of the year, many people considered City Zip the top sprinting 3-year-old, but he has been less than dazzling of late. Maybe the Riva Ridge is where he can turn it around.

Put It Back has been quite impressive beating up on lesser in New York. The Riva Ridge will be his acid test. Flame Thrower just ran a great second to Disco Rico in the Grade 3 Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap on Preakness Day. That was his first start since the Breeders' Cup, first start since knee surgery, and first against his elders. He left some top-class older sprinters behind and figures to be fit and ready for his best in the Riva Ridge.

Still, the horse to beat has to be Express Tour. Owned by Godolphin, he hit the wall after nine furlongs in the Kentucky Derby. So he's not a Derby horse. He is, however, still a very good horse, one who figures to relish the return to seven furlongs. He has the speed to gain position, ability to finish, and guts to fight it out. It all sounds like a lethal combination.

More confusing is what to make of Perfect Sting, who has an outside chance to run in the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap, a 10-furlong turf race, against the boys.

If she runs in the Manhattan - her trainer, Joe Orseno, said last week he's leaning toward running her instead in the Just a Game against her own sex on the same day - she will probably face King Cugat, Understood, Tijiyr, and Whata Brainstorm. Perfect Sting is talented, but can she handle top-class males? Probably not, as indicated by her winning Beyers last year (101, 101, 101, 102, 101, and 105).

Hook and Ladder will try to re-establish himself as a Breeders' Cup Sprint threat in Saturday's Grade 2 True North. He couldn't handle Peeping Tom in the seven-furlong Carter but may have found the distance beyond his reach. The six-furlong distance of the True North is better for Hook and Ladder, who must beat California hotshot Men's Exclusive and local runners Istintaj, Say Florida Sandy, and Here's Zealous.

Back to California

Bienamado attempts to maintain his spot at the top of the turf division in the June 10 Grade 1 Charlie Whittingham at Hollywood. But Drysdale, who just ran one-two in the Shoemaker Mile with Irish Prize and Touch of the Blues, takes dead aim with White Heart, winner of the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, and quality import Bombard.

Throw in top-class performers such as Timboroa, Kerrygold, the Dick Mandella-trained South American import Cagney, and recent upstart Kudos, and it looks like a strong race. Still, odds are that Bienamado disposes of them with the usual disdain he's shown for his opponents.