07/31/2002 11:00PM

Mayakovsky returns as strictly a sprinter

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Mayakovsky, who began his career sensationally at Saratoga last summer, looks to begin the second half of his 3-year-old campaign in similar style when he takes on seven rivals in Saturday's $150,000 Amsterdam Handicap. The Grade 2 Amsterdam will be decided at six furlongs.

Mayakovsky set a track record launching his career here on opening day of the 2001 meet, then returned to finish second behind Came Home in the Grade 1 Hopeful six weeks later. Given the winter off to recuperate from a minor injury suffered after the Hopeful, Mayakovsky came back to win the Grade 3 Gotham in his 3-year-old debut. But after he finished a tiring fourth in the Santa Anita Derby, trainer Patrick Biancone decided to point the speedster to a sprint campaign with his main goal the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

"It became obvious he had distance limitations, so we decided to back off on him for a while and give him time to mature, muscle up and be fresh for the second half of the season," said Biancone. "If all goes well, he's got four big races to run, including the Breeders' Cup, and we needed to prepare him for that."

Jerry Bailey will be aboard the speedy Mayakovsky for the first time in the Amsterdam, and Biancone said he will leave all the strategy up to his rider.

"I'm just training the horse," said Biancone. "I'll let Jerry decide how to ride him."

Mayakovsky has been on or with the pace in his two previous victories but will find plenty of speed to contend with Saturday in a field that includes Greatness, Boston Common, and Heavyweight Champ.

Greatness is perfect in two starts, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 108 trouncing preliminary allowance company by 10 1/2 lengths over a wet track in his last appearance.

"Obviously he's giving away a little bit in experience to most of this field, but he's always acted like a mature horse and has never been too green," said trainer Allen Jerkens, who won the 1995 Amsterdam with King's Fiction. "He's well bred and looks like a pretty good prospect. We'll just have to wait and see how good he can be."

John Velazquez picks up the mount on Greatness.

Boston Common led throughout to win Monmouth Park's Grade 3 Jersey Shore Stakes on July 4. Heavyweight Champ, second in the Sanford and third in the Saratoga Special here last summer, finished a game second after disputing the pace under second-level allowance conditions in his 3-year-old debut.

A fast pace could play into the hands of Listen Here or Flying Free.

Listen Here has rallied to finish second in both of his last two starts, the Hirsch Jacobs and Jersey Shore stakes and was a maiden winner over this track last summer.

Flying Free finished fast to defeat first-level allowance competition at Churchill Downs last month, earning a career-best Beyer Figure of 94, and could be a sleeper if moving forward off the effort in his stakes debut.

Bold Truth is an unpredictable colt who has turned in some big performances, but like Flying Free is unproven against stakes company.

Florida invader Handsome Hunk is a minor stakes winner who may also have an impact on the early pace.