06/19/2006 11:00PM

Minister's Bid has the look of top quality

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ELMONT, N.Y. - The 3-year-olds are sure to provide high drama as the rest of the season unfolds. To see an example of the division's depth look no further than Thursday's eighth race at Belmont Park, a first-level allowance at a mile. Flashy Bull will make his first start in the eighth since the Kentucky Derby, in which he broke from post 20 and beat six horses.

is twice stakes-placed at the Grade 2 level, in the Remsen and Fountain of Youth; he ran big on this track last fall; and his comeback works include a bullet half-mile on the training track. These credentials are enough to make him the favorite in nine out of 10 allowance races for those who have not won two races.

Not this one.

That role will be filled by , a $750,000 Deputy Minister colt owned by John C. Oxley and trained by John Ward who did things in his debut ordinary first-time starters simply cannot. Running over Keeneland's notoriously speed-favoring track, he broke last of 12 and remained far back through the first quarter-mile, passed five rivals rallying to contention around the turn, reached the front approaching midstretch, and galloped away as if he should have been 1-9 instead of 9-1.

"It didn't surprise me to see his talent, his move," said Ward. "He is definitely a quality animal, a first-rate horse. I told Mr. Oxley, 'The day after the Belmont starts the second half of the season.' "

Minister's Bid was scheduled to make his debut at Gulfstream. "A quarter crack patch blew off, and I had to scratch him," Ward explained. "I never could get him back in . . . and it fouled up our whole spring with him."

Minister's Bid has been training in Saratoga for the past month, posting several solid five-furlong workouts. "He has worked very well up here," said Ward.

Other legitimate contenders in an exceptionally salty field of seven include Habsburg, a gutsy maiden winner in sharp time on Memorial Day; Forest Phantom, second to High Finance in his first allowance try; Racketeer, fourth in the San Felipe; , a lengthy winner of his only dirt start wearing blinkers; and Elements, the field's lone 4-year-old, whose two races on Belmont's main track are his two fastest races.

* The incredible Spooky Mulder goes for his 26th career victory in the third race, a $56,000 high-end optional claiming sprint. Spooky Mulder breaks from the rail as the main speed in a short field.