06/05/2001 11:00PM

Lukas back on the scene with longshot


ELMONT, N.Y. - After passing the first two legs of the Triple Crown for the first time in more than two decades, trainer D. Wayne Lukas arrived at Belmont Park Wednesday with his Belmont Stakes longshot Buckle Down Ben. Lukas is looking to pull an upset that might surpass the one he registered last year when 18-1 shot Commendable gave Lukas his fourth Belmont winner.

Buckle Down Ben, who won the Grade 3 Laurel Futurity last year when he was trained by Steve Klesaris, is coming off a second-level allowance win on May 27 at Churchill Downs.

"He's obviously a horse that will be overlooked by a lot of people," said Lukas, whose horse was beaten 25 3/4 lengths in the Grade 2 Spiral Stakes two starts back. "You look at the last race, that was significant: it was a good time, it was a good number. But it wasn't against the best of the division. It was at Churchill, it was one turn, so there's a lot of negatives you could point to.

"But I think he will make a strong showing. He's a horse that's doing very good. I'm not going to stand here and say he's going to win the Belmont. And if he wins it, I'm not going to stand here and say I told you so. But I think he deserves a shot. The Belmont winner a lot of times fits a whole different scenario than the other two legs of this thing."

Lukas had his 20-year streak of running at least one horse in the Kentucky Derby snapped this year. He also did not start a horse in the Preakness for only the second time since 1985.

"We did pass the Derby and the Preakness without any problems because it wasn't realistic," Lukas said. "I looked at the field and we just weren't going to be a force, and we had to accept that."

Lukas said he watched the Kentucky Derby from owner William T. Young's box seat at Churchill Downs. He said he watched the Preakness from the living room of his Southern California home - in between bouts of yard work.

"I thought Point Given looked to me like the logical Derby winner," Lukas said. "He looks like the logical winner here, but logic goes right out the window here."

Harmony Hall favored in Flash

Trainer Frank Alexander said he wasn't surprised by the ease of Harmony Hall's win in his career debut at Belmont Park on May 25. A Gilded Time colt, Harmony Hall argued a quick early pace, shrugged off odds-on favorite Day Trader, and rolled home a 6 3/4-length winner in the mud, paying $11.60.

"He's been the perfect horse from the go," said Alexander of Harmony Hall, who was bought at auction earlier this year for $130,000. "The other day he broke sharply, went head to head, and put away a [Wayne] Lukas horse they liked."

Now Alexander sets his sights on a stakes win for Harmony Hall in Friday's $75,000-added Flash, a Grade 3 race, against seven other 2-year-old colts.

With the exception of Deeliteful Guy, who is still a maiden, each of the Flash runners is eligible for a first-level allowance.

The 83 Beyer Speed Figure earned by Harmony Hall for running five furlongs in 58.31 seconds in his victory will make him the Flash favorite.

Robbie Davis rides Harmony Hall, who was schooled at the gate since his first race because he "raised a little hell" before the start, according to Alexander. Harmony Hall drew post 3.

Mapp Hill, bought for $150,000 earlier this year, won his first start on May 13 at Woodbine. Trainer Josie Carroll said that experience did Mapp Hill a world of good.

"He's starting to figure things out and grow up," Carroll said. "He was not that focused - a gawker. Now he's paying attention."

Jerry Bailey picks up the mount on Mapp Hill.

Producer riding high

Rocco Landesman has hit the greatest parlay of his life this spring. He cashed a huge superfecta wager on the Kentucky Derby, then on Sunday saw the smash hit play "The Producers," of which Landesman is one of the producers, win a record 12 Tony Awards.

And on Saturday, Landesman will be indulging another of his passions when he attends the 133rd Belmont Stakes.

"This has been quite a ride," Landesman, the president of Jujamcyn Theatres, said at his office in Manhattan this week. "We won every Tony category we were in. It was like winning all nine races on a card."

Landesman once owned horses, but now his financial interest in racing is strictly through the mutuel windows. His office is filled with racing memorabilia. Landesman has several racing posters and a framed photo of Dr. Fager setting a one-mile record at Arlington Park in 1968. One frame contains a collage of the Derby chart from this year, along with two laudatory reviews from "The Producers."

Joining Landesman in his office was Dave Johnson, the longtime race caller at the Meadowlands, who now calls the Triple Crown for Premiere Radio Networks. Johnson and Landesman, who share an interest in racing and the theater, met through a mutual friend a decade ago, and that led to Johnson having one of the greatest scores of his life. He is a minority investor in "The Producers," which Landesman said is grossing $1 million a week.

"It's arguably the greatest hit of all time," said Landesman, who said tickets to the show are now being sold through the end of 2002.

Johnson had invested in just one show previously, the successful "Noises Off."

"You must think this is a pretty easy game," Landesman said to Johnson. "You're 2 for 2."

Johnson said racing mirrors the theater in that there is "a build-up, the expectations, and then the performance."

"Racing is great theater without a script," Johnson said. "There's a visceral payoff to both."

Quarantine restrictions

Due to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease overseas, horses entering this country - including Belmont Stakes starter Dr Greenfield - are restricted to being quarantined at the USDA facility in Newburgh, N.Y., about a three-hour van ride from Belmont Park.

Had there not been any restrictions, a satellite quarantine facility could have been set up at Aqueduct. Dr Greenfield was allowed to walk in quarantine as often as his connections desired. Had he been at Aqueduct, he would have been able to train following regular training hours.

Dr Greenfield arrived from England at 2 a.m. Tuesday and was released from quarantine at about 3 p.m. Wednesday. He was due to arrive at Belmont at about 6 p.m.

"It's not a horse issue, it's a national sense of tightening up all the restrictions to do everything they can to minimize the risk of foot and mouth," said Dr. Ted Hill, the Jockey Club steward.

Hill said he hopes the foot and mouth restrictions will be lifted by the fall so horses coming from Europe for the Breeders' Cup will be able to be quarantined at Aqueduct.

Albert the Great tops Brooklyn weights

Albert the Great, beaten a neck by Include in the Pimlico Special, will carry 122 pounds in Sunday's $250,000 Brooklyn Handicap. He will spot three to 10 pounds to his nine rivals, which could include State Shinto (119), Graeme Hall (118), Traditionally (117), Gander (115), Perfect Cat (115), Pleasant Breeze (115), Windrush (114), Top Official (113), and Justification (112).

On Tuesday, Gander worked five furlongs in 59.69 seconds over Belmont's main track.

On Wednesday, State Shinto, the fourth-place finisher in the Dubai World Cup, worked five furlongs in 1:00.34 over the main track. He worked in company with Dubai World.

City Zip fires Riva Ridge bullet

City Zip, who ended a seven-race losing streak with his victory in last month's Hirsch Jacobs Stakes, breezed a half-mile in 47.03 seconds over the training track. It was the fastest of 24 moves at the distance. He is entered in Saturday's Riva Ridge Stakes.

"It was a good work," trainer Linda Rice said. "He's been doing great and he looks terrific. We still have a foot we've been dealing with every day. It'll take several months until we get it completely healed up."

City Zip has been wearing a patch to protect a quarter crack.

Also working for the Riva Ridge was Express Tour, who went a half-mile in 48.66 seconds over Belmont's main track.

* Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Belmont runner Balto Star, was asked Wednesday morning if he believed that Balto Star would have developed into a horse of this quality had he not been gelded. "I see no choice other than to say no," Pletcher replied.

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson and Jay Privman