05/25/2002 12:00AM

Left Bank makes for memorable Mile


ELMONT, N.Y. - For the better part of a century, racing's signature holiday program in New York has been the Memorial Day card that includes the Metropolitan Mile, and there have been some memorable moments.

Traffic Judge's victory over Dedicate was special and Gallant Man was brilliant in beating Bold Ruler. Gun Bow's win over Chieftain, Arts and Letters's score over Nodouble, and Forego's tally over Master Derby were spectacular in their way.

But the greatest race in the series, and one of the greatest races run anywhere, took place here on Memorial Day in 1954 when Native Dancer beat Straight Face while conceding 13 pounds.

Straight Face, on the lead under Ted Atkinson, ran the first six furlongs in 1:10.20 and appeared to be in command, while Native Dancer, far back under Eric Guerin, showed little verve. But then the gray horse sensed it was time and he cranked it up. He was flying now, but had so much to make up that his cause looked hopeless. He never gave up, however, and with a lunge at the wire won the finest performance of his distinguished career, during which he won 21 of 22 starts.

This year's Metropolitan is also headed by a horse of considerable class in Left Bank. A 5-year-old son of French Deputy, Left Bank excelled last season while winning the Cigar Mile and the Vosburgh, and recently made his 2002 debut in the Bold Ruler Handicap at six furlongs and looked good defeating hard-hitting sprinters. That was his 12th victory for the stable of Michael Tabor, who bought him at Calder's 2-year-old sale for $600,000. Left Bank has earned some $840,000 and will pass the million-dollar mark if he wins the $750,000 Metropolitan.

Tabor, who races good horses throughout the world in a partnership with Ireland's Coolmore Farm, is a major player on the international stage. His Thunder Gulch, a Kentucky Derby winner, was America's leading stallion last season, and his Johannesburg was undefeated during a championship 2-year-old campaign.

On the basis of his achievements, Left Bank could have gone to stud this year with prospects of success, like those enjoyed by Honour and Glory, Tabor's 1996 Metropolitan winner. But Tabor likes to watch them compete, so Left Bank is girding for what is probably going to be the toughest fight of his career.

"It's a very strong field," said Left Bank's trainer, Todd Pletcher. "Aldebaran, who raced well on the grass in Europe last season, has shown he can handle the dirt over here. D'wildcat has run well in good company. Affirmed Success has been a quality horse for a long time. I respect them all, but when Left Bank is on his game, he's as good as anybody."

Left Bank, who has won 5 of 7 starts at Belmont Park, popped a splint on a muddy track in last year's Met Mile. The splint was freeze-fired and he returned, 10 weeks later, with a victory at Saratoga. He's been in best form ever since, and chances are he will need all of it in New York's own Met Mile.