11/24/2003 1:00AM

Lightweight dangerous in Highweight


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - If, as it appears, Savoy Special has put his gate problems behind him, he could be ready to step up and be the next stakes star in Todd Pletcher's barn.

Savoy Special, who has never been worse than third in eight career starts, will make his stakes debut in Thursday's Grade 3, $100,000 Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct. The Fall Highweight kicks off HolidayFest, Aqueduct's final meaningful weekend of the year, highlighted by Saturday's Grade 1 Cigar Mile.

Savoy Special, a son of Grand Slam, has won three of his last four starts and has been slowly increasing his Beyer Speed Figures along the way. In winning a second-level allowance race at Aqueduct on Nov. 8, Savoy Special earned a 100 Beyer, cracking the triple-digit plateau for the first time. When he finished second to Roaring Fever two starts back, Savoy Special earned a 98.

Pletcher had nominated Savoy Special to the Cigar Mile, but felt facing the imposing Congaree might be a bit much for his 3-year-old at this time.

"His last two races from a figure standpoint have been breakthrough races for him,'' Pletcher said. "He's probably a little better at seven-eighths and the Cigar Mile might be too big a step up. If he were to improve another notch, then this race is worth a shot.''

Entries for the Fall Highweight, the traditional Thanksgiving Day feature at Aqueduct, were to be taken on Tuesday. As of Monday, the likely entrants were Peeping Tom (138 pounds), Papua (132), Super Fuse (130), Bossanova (128), and Vodka (128). Savoy Special is the lightweight at 127 pounds.

It took five starts for Savoy Special to win his maiden. Pletcher attributed a series of second and thirds to poor behavior in the gate. After winning his maiden and an entry-level allowance race at Belmont in the spring, Savoy Special was entered in a second-level allowance race July 26 at Saratoga. A good performance there may have earned Savoy Special a shot in the Grade 1 King's Bishop one month later.

But Savoy Special again had gate troubles, somehow getting caught underneath the gate, injuring a leg. He was scratched from the race and didn't return until Oct. 4, when he finished second to Roaring Fever.

Savoy Special's speed and his light weight make him a dangerous factor in the Fall Highweight, which has been won by a 3-year-old in six of the past 14 years, including the last two.

Peeping Tom on Monday worked three furlongs in 36 seconds over Belmont's main track. Trainer Pat Reynolds said it was his preference to run in the Fall Highweight, but that he still had to discuss it with the owners, Flatbird Stable. They have expressed a desire to run in the Cigar Mile.

Bossanova, a New York-bred 3-year-old, on Monday worked four furlongs in 48.06 seconds and was confirmed by trainer James Bond as a Fall Highweight starter.

Voodoo works toward Cigar Mile

Voodoo, who finished third in the 2001 Fall Highweight, is passing this year's Fall Highweight in favor of Saturday's Grade 1, $350,000 Cigar Mile. Monday, he worked six furlongs in 1:14.03 over the Belmont training track.

"It was nice and even,'' trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. "He could've went a lot faster; we didn't want him to go faster.''

Voodoo, a son of Petionville, is coming off a 2 1/2-length win in the Grade 3 Sport Page Handicap at Belmont Park in which he earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 111. Voodoo has a history of not being able to string together back-to-back winning efforts, which naturally has Jerkens concerned.

"He doesn't give you a whole lot to go by,'' Jerkens said. "He's eating good, and that has been a problem in the past.''

The Cigar Mile, the last Grade 1 of the year in New York, could draw as many as 10 entrants. Congaree, the 124-pound highweight, is expected to arrive from California on Wednesday. Midas Eyes, a 3-year-old stakes winner, is also expected to run as are Bowman's Band, New York Hero, Toccet, and Well Fancied. Peeping Tom, Presidentialaffair, and Sam Lord's Castle are possible.

Sunday, Midas Eyes drilled five furlongs in 59.20 seconds, the fastest of 52 works at Hollywood Park.

Artist Johanna aims at First Flight

The Argentine-bred Artist Johanna came to trainer Frank Alexander earlier this year with the potential to be a stakes star on turf. But, Alexander has found the 5-year-old mare quite versatile and instead will try to get Artist Johanna her first North American stakes win on dirt in Friday's Grade 2, $150,000 Top Flight Handicap at one mile.

Artist Johanna was a Group 2 winner on turf in her native land. But, she finished last in her turf debut here, a product more of her physical well-being than her like or dislike for the Belmont turf, according to Alexander.

"Two days before the race her coat turned on me and she stopped eating,'' Alexander said. "I felt she had been doing well up to that point so I said, 'Let's take a shot.' She looked horrible and she developed skin disease after the race and we stopped on her.''

Two months later, Artist Johanna won a third-level allowance race on dirt and has run well thereafter. She finished second in a classified allowance race in which she had an inside trip and was willing to come up the rail. She then finished third in the Long Look Handicap at The Meadowlands in which she had an inside trip, but seemed unwilling to come up the rail, according to Alexander. In her most recent start, Artist Johanna won a fourth-level allowance race at Aqueduct Nov. 15. Thus, she is running back in less than two weeks.

"It's a little bit of a concern, but I'm going to turn her out for 30 to 45 days after this race,'' Alexander said.

A big field is shaping up for the Top Flight. Others expected to run include Austin's Mom, Beauty Halo, Misty Sixes, Pocus Hocus, Randaroo, Shawklit Mint, Willa on the Move, and Zawzooth. Possible starters include Double Scoop, One for Rose, and Win's Fair Lady.

Monday, Willa on the Move worked four furlongs in 47.40 seconds at Laurel while Randaroo went an easy half-mile in 50.16 seconds.

* Ashado, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up, worked five furlongs in 1:00.27 Sunday morning in preparation for Saturday's $200,000 Demoiselle.