05/25/2006 11:00PM

Milk It Mick has erased doubts

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Milk It Mick, winning the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile in March, has since finished third in both the Grade 2 Arcadia and the Woodford Reserve.

PHOENIX - I admit it. I was one of the skeptics.

But who could blame me? When looking back on the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita in early March, you couldn't miss the trouble encountered by so many and that the first eight finishers ended up within a length or so of each other. You had to think that if you ran the race 10 times you'd end up with eight different winners. So count me among those who viewed Milk It Mick's win as opportunistic rather than awesome.

But I doubt no longer. Milk It Mick was always a good horse; my skepticism over his Kilroe win wasn't a reflection of his ability. You don't win a Group 1 stakes in England by accident. And in his U.S. debut, the Grade 2 San Marcos, he was second behind The Tin Man, who won another stakes and then finished second in the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free in Dubai.

So when Milk It Mick goes off in Monday's Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile, he will probably do so with my financial backing.

In spite of two losses since the Kilroe, Milk It Mick has shown that the win was no fluke. He was third to Shoemaker rival Silent Name in the Grade 2 Arcadia, but Silent Name and runner-up Chinese Dragon had to run their final quarter-mile in 23.63 seconds to beat him. Milk It Mick's final quarter, after being in the mix early, was 24.83.

It was Milk It Mick's third in the Woodford Reserve, however, that really caught my eye. English Channel, the winner, is a beast, no doubt. But had Milk It Mick found room in the lane, he could have given English Channel a scare. Milk It Mick closed well under Kent Desormeaux, but the stretch run for him was like trying to walk through the mall the week before Christmas. He finished third by just over a length.

Trainer Jim Cassidy initially said Milk It Mick would skip the Shoemaker and instead point to the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham on June 10 or the Grade 2 American Handicap on July 2. But Milk It Mick has flourished of late, working a bullet five furlongs in 58.80 seconds, best of 36 at the distance, at Santa Anita last Sunday, so Cassidy decided to run Milk It Mick in the Shoemaker.

He should be a decent price, because the race is coming up brutally tough. The line might look like this: Charmo, 5-2; Silent Name, 7-2; Milk It Mick, 9-2; Willow O Wisp, 9-2; Aragorn, 6-1; Diamond Green, 6-1; Terroplane, 8-1. Charmo just won the Golden Gate Breeders' Cup Mile. Silent Name has been electric in winning his only two U.S. starts. Willow O Wisp just won here, is 3 for 4 at Hollywood, and may be the controlling speed. Aragorn gave Charmo fits at Golden Gate and may be fitter now. Diamond Green rubbed elbows with the best in Europe, and a recent win at Santa Anita makes it appear he's acclimating to his new surroundings. And Terroplane is capable of freaky big efforts when things break his way.

But in this situation, it may be Milk It Mick's chance to shine.

Silver Train will be a handful

I was puzzled to hear Richard Dutrow Jr. say Love of Money would only go in Monday's Grade 1 Met Mile if the track was wet. I realize his other runner in the race, Silver Train, looms a huge player, but Love of Money's second in the Westchester at Belmont on opening day a few weeks ago seemed an ideal set-up for a Met Mile run. And it's not like there are a lot of other races for handicap runners right now, unless Dutrow is going to ship Love of Money to Churchill for the Grade 1 Stephen Foster on June 17.

Even without Love of Money in the Met Mile, Dutrow could still end up posing for pictures. Sure, Bandini figures to be plenty scary for Todd Pletcher, but they're playing Silver Train's game at his track. Silver Train won the Breeders' Cup Sprint at six furlongs, and this slightly longer trip may be more to his strength. After all, he won the Grade 2 Jerome Handicap at a mile and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 110.

You can't really play a Silver Train-Bandini exacta box, at least not if you want to make money. I've never been in Wilko's corner, and although Sun King looked super winning the Commonweath at Keeneland, it's easy to be skeptical of such an effort in light of losses by Sinister Minister and Wanderin Boy off huge Keeneland races.

With that in mind, Mass Media may be the right horse to complete the exacta with Silver Train. Trained by Bobby Frankel, Mass Media won last year's Grade 1 Forego and was second in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile last fall, when Purge won by 3 3/4 lengths. Mass Media came back last month after a long vacation and was fourth in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap. He might be set for his best.