11/25/2004 1:00AM

Leroidesanimaux the real deal

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NEW YORK - The stakes-filled Thanksgiving Day weekend reaches a crescendo Saturday, with important events at Hollywood Park, Aqueduct, and Churchill Downs.

The Hollywood Park Autumn Turf Festival continues with the Citation Handicap and the Generous Stakes. The Citation, at $400,000, is the richest race and one of two Grade 1 events on Saturday's national stakes schedule, while the Generous is worth $100,000.

HolidayFest at Aqueduct hits its peak with three stakes races, topped by the $350,000 Cigar Mile, the other Grade 1 event Saturday. Also to be run are the Remsen Stakes for 2-year-olds and its filly counterpart, the Demoiselle. Each race has a $200,000 purse.

Two-year-olds will be in the spotlight at Churchill Downs, where it is closing day. The Kentucky Jockey Club and the Golden Rod for fillies are the main events, and they also have purses of $200,000.

Citation Handicap

Leroidesanimaux signaled he was a very serious horse last May in his victory in the Inglewood Handicap, which was at the same distance and over the same course as this race. Despite dueling for the early lead through strong fractions, Leroidesanimaux pulled away in the stretch from Designed for Luck, who was unable to capitalize even though he sat a perfect trip just off the duel. Designed for Luck made Leroidesanimaux look very good in his next start when he came back to win the Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile over eventual Breeders' Cup Mile upsetter Singletary. Also, Leroidesanimaux's Beyer Speed Figure in the Inglewood of 111 was, for a long time, the best Beyer on turf this year.

After that, Leroidesanimaux went AWOL, but he returned at Santa Anita on Breeders' Cup Day and won the Morvich Handicap. Not only did he match his Inglewood Beyer, he did so at a distance that was probably shorter than his best, and despite lugging in and gawking at the stands in deep stretch. It was just the kind of performance he can improve on, although he really doesn't have to in order to win this. Still, he may offer some betting value because two of his opponents Saturday, Nothing to Lose and Special Ring, were well backed when they last ran, in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Generous Stakes

Despite being light in terms of Beyer Figures, Petrus is my choice in what is a wide-open and terrific betting race.

Petrus was extremely wide in the stretch and probably best when nosed in his career debut two starts back, and was a decisive winner most recently after checking into the first turn and being rank for a while after that. One of the reasons why Petrus only got a 68 Beyer for that win was the early pace was so slow. But every quarter-mile Petrus ran in that one-mile race was faster than the one before, and that suggests he can take advantage of a race filled with early speed.

Cigar Mile

Pico Central, with his three Grade 1 wins this year, should be champion sprinter whether he wins or loses in this race. I say that because he is vulnerable in this spot. Pico Central will have to run to the front from the inside post, especially with speed breaking right to his outside, and that was the same early setup that may have played a role in his loss at 2-5 in the O'Brien two starts back.

I'm going with the horse who won the O'Brien with a 116 Beyer and followed with a fast-closing second in the BC Sprint. That is Kela, who also earned a big fig winning the Texas Mile earlier this year and may find a one-turn mile to be his favorite trip.