08/30/2002 11:00PM

Lone Star Sky a standout

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CINCINNATI - River Downs is considered a little racetrack, but that doesn't mean big horses never race here.

River's signature race, the Cradle Stakes, has produced horses of national significance. It happened in the mid-1980's when Spend a Buck won the Cradle before becoming a Kentucky Derby champion the following spring, and it happened last year when Harlan's Holiday won the Cradle before capturing such major races as the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes.

Trainer Tom Amoss would like little more than to replicate that kind of success. Amoss will saddle Lone Star Sky as a heavy favorite Monday in the 27th running of the $200,000 Cradle, which comes on closing day of the spring-summer meet at River.

Amoss acknowledges that Lone Star Sky, who was supplemented by owner Walter "Buddy" New to the race for a $12,000 fee, will be an overwhelming betting choice. Yet he is wary of the 1 1/16-mile distance of the race, if only because few of the horses, including Lone Star Sky, have proven themselves at a two-turn distance.

"It's pretty much uncharted water for all of them," said Amoss. "Obviously, I'd love to see our horse handle it the way we think he can. If he does, then we'll be one step closer to our ultimate goal, which is to be at Arlington Park on the last Saturday of October" for the 1 1/8-mile Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Lone Star Sky, a Conquistador Cielo colt, will be ridden by Mark Guidry, who guided him to victory in the Grade 2 Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs and in a recent runner-up finish behind Zavata in the Saratoga Special. Lone Star Sky encountered traffic at the quarter pole in the Saratoga race, although Amoss admits the colt was not going to catch Zavata that day.

"That was kind of a weird race for him because he didn't show his usual speed, and Mark had to ride him along down the backstretch," he said. "But the real encouraging thing was that even after he got stopped, he got his momentum and really came home well."

Lone Star Sky will break from post 2 when facing eight other 2-year-olds in the Cradle, which is the leadoff race in the America's Day pick three. The $1 minimum wager concludes with the Arlington Matron and the Solana Beach from Del Mar. Patrons need to ask for "River Downs, race 9," when betting the America's Day pick three.