06/29/2005 11:00PM

Little reason to believe


ELMONT, N.Y. - There will be fireworks galore on Fourth of July weekend at Belmont, with six stakes in 72 hours. A race-by-race preview:

Saturday stakes

Suburban Handicap: A weak renewal, considering the long list of past Hall of Fame winners. Vying for favoritism are Pollard's Vision, a nice little horse, but one who has been Grade 3 caliber all his life and runs his best figures on wet tracks, and Funny Cide, beaten a neck and a nose in this race last year.

Exactly what is left of Funny Cide at age 5 is not fully understood, but early results are not promising. In his first start of the year, he was hard-ridden in the Pimlico Special to be within two lengths of the leader at the pace call on a tiring sloppy track. (According to my Quirin-style figures, Presidentialaffair set the fastest adjusted pace of the season in the Special.) Funny Cide seemed knocked out from that race when he returned in the Brooklyn, where he failed to make any impact before and after being put in tight quarters into the far turn. He received a Beyer Speed Figure of 94, his lowest since the 2003 Haskell.

Alternatives include Evening Attire, the deep-closing Methuselah who was 1 for 11 last year and showed nothing in the Brooklyn; Record Buster, making his stakes debut and just his fourth lifetime start; Sir Shackleton, off form since two big-figure wins in long sprints at Gulfstream Park; Tap Day, an unheralded 4-year-old who nevertheless boasts the best last-out Beyer, a 107 for easily winning an ungraded stakes at Monmouth Park; and Offlee Wild.

Before flopping as the favorite in the Pimlico Special, Offlee Wild ran figures of 110-110-109, good enough to win the Suburban's 119th running. Those inclined to throw out one bad race may be taking the right approach.

New York Handicap: The toughest filly-and-mare grass race of the season, it includes defending champ Wonder Again and Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf runner-up Film Maker, each making her second start of the year after very encouraging return races; Riskaverse, who beat both of them in the Flower Bowl on this course last fall; Beaugay Handicap winner Finery; and Wend, an exciting prospect who gets her litmus test after winning four turf starts by more than 19 lengths.

A combination of factors points to Wonder Again. Rain earlier this week should put some give in the course, and Wonder Again's two wins last year were on soft and yielding footing. Finery has enough speed to keep Wend honest toward the front, and Wonder Again, a very capable stalker at 1 1/4 miles, should get the jump on Film Maker and Riskaverse, a mare who is at her best in late summer and fall.

Sunday stakes

Poker Handicap: Two things work against L'Oiseau d'Argent. His three triple-digit Beyers, including a last-out top of 107, all came with the benefit of clear early leads. He faces a tougher pace matchup because of the expected presence of Gulch Approval, who stretches out after contesting a six-furlong fraction of 1:09 in the recent Jaipur Stakes. Also, L'Oiseau d'Argent likes firm turf - the firmer the better. Through seven starts in England, he raced only when the ground was rated good-to-firm or good, and he did not handle good ground very well in the Fort Marcy, his only non-firm run in the United States.

Willard Straight, a come-from-the-clouds type, was compromised in his seasonal debut, when L'Oiseau d'Argent got clear through a first quarter in 24.64 seconds. Willard Straight projects for a much better pace scenario this time and can turn the tables.

Astoria: Juvenile fillies expected for this dash include Blissful Trip, Fifth Avenue, Folklore, and Wonder Lady Anne L, who are tough to separate after running virtually identical Beyers last time out.

The filly to beat may be Adieu, who did not receive a Beyer for her debut out of the 4 1/2-furlong chute at Keeneland, where she beat nine rivals at odds-on in a visually impressive performance. Adieu is by first-crop sire El Corredor, a Cigar Mile winner at 3 who is expected to produce an abundance of sprinter-miler types.

Monday stakes

Tremont: Don't you feel out of the loop when a 2-year-old first-time starter with just three published workouts - two of which were slowest of the morning - is hammered to even-money and wins by a pole? That was the case when Travelin Leroy shipped in from Fair Hill to win his debut by nearly nine lengths, earning a 95 Beyer. The handful of others expected to face him have run nothing better than a 69, so you don't have to be a rocket scientist to find the most likely winner.

Dwyer: Roman Ruler was entered against Commentator at seven furlongs this past Wednesday, but he will instead run at 1 1/16 miles against Oratory, whose 114 Beyer for winning the Peter Pan has been exceeded by only one other 3-year-old this year, Bellamy Road, who earned a 120 in the Wood Memorial.

The midweek audible by his connections seems to indicate there is no real game plan for Roman Ruler, who has not won since October and whose only two fast races against the clock both occurred at Del Mar.

This does not, however, make Oratory a cinch. His big figure came with the aid of a slow pace in the Peter Pan, and the Dwyer fractions should be much more demanding because of the expected presence of Middle Earth, who was within a half-length of Lost in the Fog at the pace call of the seven-furlong Riva Ridge.

The dark horse is Mr. Congeniality, whose two starts at Belmont this spring were vast improvements over his prior form.