10/19/2005 11:00PM

Meet New York's finest

Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
West Virginia (above) heads the Empire Classic, while the once-mighty Galloping Grocer attempts to restore some of his past glory.

ELMONT, N.Y. - One week before the best horses in the world converge on New York for the 22nd Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, many of the best horses bred in this state will be on display at Belmont Park in the 12th annual New York Showcase Day program.

All 10 races on Saturday's card will be restricted to New York-breds, including seven stakes with purses totaling $1 million. A total of 134 horses were entered on the card, with six of the seven stakes drawing a minimum of 12 horses. First post is 1 p.m.

While the Breeders' Cup boasts four returning champions to its eight-race program (Ashado, Better Talk Now, Ouija Board, and Singletary), there are five winners from last year's New York Showcase stakes returning this year. That includes Spite the Devil, who will defend his title in the day's main event, the $250,000 for colts and geldings. Galloping Grocer, who won the $100,000 Sleepy Hollow for 2-year-olds last year, will also be in this year's Classic, run at 1 1/8 miles on dirt.

Friendly Island, who won last year's $125,000 Hudson Handicap for male sprinters, makes his first start since last November in the Hudson, where he'll face Clever Electrician and Papua, the second- and third-place finishers from last year's race.

Pelham Bay, who won last year's $100,000 Maid of the Mist for juvenile fillies, will be a longshot in the $125,000 Iroquois for female sprinters at seven furlongs. On the Bus and Sabellina, the one-two finishers from last year's $125,000 Ticonderoga, meet again this year. Certifiably Crazy, second to Irish Colonial in last year's $125,000 Mohawk Handicap, heads a full field in the Mohawk.

Only Mother Nature could put a damper on the proceedings as showers are in the forecast for Saturday.

Spite the Devil, West Virginia, and Mr. Determined were separated by one length when they finished one-two-three in last year's Empire Classic. Spite the Devil overcame a stumbling start and took advantage of a fast pace to outfinish West Virginia and win by a head.

This will mark Spite the Devil's fourth consecutive appearance on Showcase Day. In 2002, Spite the Devil finished second to Funny Cide in the Sleepy Hollow before running fourth to Well Fancied in the 2003 Classic and winning it last year.

Spite the Devil is winless in three starts this year, and has not run since June 11 when he finished eighth in the Brooklyn Handicap. He suffered an ankle injury while training for the Evan Shipman in July. Trainer Allen Jerkens worked Spite the Devil on back-to-back days earlier in the week and planned another blowout for the 5-year-old on Friday.

"I guess he's pretty fit because he worked pretty good," Jerkens said, referring to a one-mile breeze in 1:42.05 on Monday.

Spite the Devil will break from the rail under Javier Castellano and 119 pounds. Castellano rode Spite the Devil to victory in this race last year.

West Virginia was favored in last year's Classic and figures to be favored again Saturday, coming off his win in the Grade 3 Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap at Monmouth Park. Trainer Todd Pletcher believes traffic trouble caused his horse to get beat last year.

"Tough beat," Pletcher said. "There was a large field and we got lost in a little bit of traffic around the turn. The best part was the last sixteenth of a mile; he just couldn't get there. His Iselin was a breakthough race and clearly the most significant race he won."

Pletcher will also run Carminooch in the Empire Classic. Owned in part by "Sopranos" actor Tony Sirico, Carminooch was second behind Naughty New Yorker in the Albany two starts back before running poorly on the turf. Naughty New Yorker won the Mike Lee Handicap the last time over this track and would benefit from a strong pace in here. As a 3-year-old, Naughty New Yorker gets in with 114 pounds.

Yankee Mon won the Evan Shipman at 1 1/16 miles at here in July, beating West Virginia. He ran twice in six days last month, finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga before bombing as the favorite in the General Douglas MacArthur Handicap here. He did not break well that day, was rushed up and dueled with Clever Electrician, who went on to win.

"If he breaks good, I think he'll be okay," said Richard Dutrow Jr., the trainer of Yankee Mon. "You got to worry about Todd's horse but we've already beaten him."

When Galloping Grocer won last year's Sleepy Hollow, it made him 3 for 3 and had people comparing him to Funny Cide. But Galloping Grocer has gone winless in seven starts since and has been plagued by physical ailments since running 13th in the Preakness in May.

After finishing second in the New York Stallion Stakes at Saratoga, Galloping Grocer was found to have a leg infection. He has been training steadily for this.

Completing the Classic field are Organzier, Seaside Salute, Raffit, Mr. Determined, and Stevie Stressor.

New York Showcase Day races

RacePurseConditionDistancePost Time
Sleepy Hollow$100,0002yo1 mile2:36
Maid of the Mist100,0002yo fillies1 mile3:08
Iroquois H.125,000Fillies-mares7 furlongs3:40
Ticonderoga H.150,000Fillies-mares1 1/8 m, turf4:12
Hudson H.125,0003yo & up6 furlongs4:45
Mohawk H.150,0003yo & up1 1/8 m, turf5:18
Empire Classic H.250,0003yo & up1 1/8 miles5:50

All races for New York-breds
All times Eastern