09/11/2006 12:00AM

MacArthur finally gets green light


ELMONT, N.Y. - If you give them more time, they will run.

That appears to be the mantra regarding the $100,000 General Douglas MacArthur Handicap, which, after twice failing to fill last week, finally drew enough entries to be carded as the featured event on Wednesday's nine-race card at Belmont Park.

West Virginia heads a field of six now seemingly set to contest the one-turn mile of the MacArthur, which serves as a stepping-stone to next month's $250,000 Empire Classic.

West Virginia, Organizer, and Spite the Devil were the only horses to enter the race when it was originally scheduled for last Friday. That same trio entered back for Sunday, but again no other horses went in. The racing office gave the race one more opportunity and Naughty New Yorker, Indian Hawke, and Lord Langfuhr entered the fray.

On paper, West Virginia is the horse to beat. He is only 1 for 8 at Belmont, however, including losses in the last four statebred stakes he has run in here. But he is dropping out of a trio of Grade 1 stakes in which he finished third each time, and his last two victories have come in Grade 3 stakes.

West Virginia makes his first start for owner Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed al-Maktoum, who purchased him privately from Don Zuckerman after last month's Whitney. Todd Pletcher, who remained as West Virginia's trainer, said the short-term goal is this race and the Empire Classic, a race in which West Virginia finished fifth last year and second in 2004. At 124 pounds, West Virginia is conceding six to 11 pounds to the MacArthur field.

"My biggest concern is a mile is a little bit short of his best distance,'' Pletcher said. "He's giving away a lot of weight. This should set him up well for the Empire Classic. Hopefully, he can come running late and move forward in the next one.''

Organizer has finished no worse than second in eight career starts at Belmont and has finished ahead of West Virginia and Spite the Devil in the past. He comes out of a third-place finish to Naughty New Yorker going two turns at Saratoga.

Indian Hawke comes off a gate-to-wire victory in the Albany for 3-year-olds at Saratoga. Naughty New Yorker runs back 11 days after finishing ninth in the Woodward. Lord Langfuhr completes the field.