08/06/2003 11:00PM

Mobil a constant in chaotic race

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NEW YORK - You wouldn't think that any track would be able to wrest a share of the spotlight from Saratoga and Del Mar at this time of the year. But on Saturday, two tracks do. At Mountaineer Race Track in Chester, W.Va., the $600,000 West Virginia Derby, which is the richest race in the nation all weekend, heads a program that also includes six other stakes worth $525,000. At Woodbine, Wando will attempt to become the first horse in 10 years, and seventh overall, to sweep the Canadian Triple Crown in the $500,000 Breeders' Stakes. In addition, Woodbine will offer the $150,000 Duchess Stakes.

Also on Saturday, the $200,000 Gardenia Stakes for fillies and mares will be contested at Ellis Park; Calder offers two divisions of the Florida Stallion Stakes, each worth $75,000; Monmouth Park has a stakes doubleheader with the $100,000 Sapling and the $50,000 Rumson; and even Philadelphia Park presents two stakes, the $100,000 Larry Riviello President's Cup and the $50,000 Pistol Packer.

Oh yes, there will be stakes at Saratoga and Del Mar, too. The $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational is the feature at Saratoga, while the headliner at Del Mar is the $150,000 Sorrento Stakes.

Here are three stakes that caught my eye:

West Virginia Derby

This is a wild race, full of questions. For example, is Dynever okay after being taken out of training for a month, and with only three published breezes since? Is Soto really as good as his 4-for-4 record suggests? Is Colita ready for a spot like this off a 2 1/2-month absence? Can the red-hot Supah Blitz overcome his disastrous draw of the 12 post?

Since the odds on all of the above don't figure to be big enough to make me want to pay to find out the answers, I'll go with a colt who usually seems to have the right answer, and that is the Canadian shipper Mobil.

Mobil is remarkably versatile and consistent. Last year, he won stakes both sprinting and going long on dirt and turf, and he has done exactly the same thing this year. Moreover, the only time he did not finish first in his last eight starts was when he finished second in the Queen's Plate to his aforementioned stablemate, Wando. Mobil has good positional speed, an asset in a field this large, and it's also a plus that the outfit secured the services of Jorge Chavez, its go-to rider in the United States.

Sword Dancer

With the chance of showers and thunderstorms in the forecast for the Northeast from now until seemingly the end of time, it looks like this race will be run on off turf. With that in mind, the selection is Ballingarry.

Ballingarry's first two races this year were disappointing, but he may not have liked the firm courses he encountered in Southern California. He caught a "good" course last time out in the Stars and Stripes at Arlington and won in what was his best effort since he took the Canadian International on yielding footing last fall. Notably, both of those stakes scores were at Saturday's 1 1/2-mile distance. Ballingarry should be close early stalking Balto Star, and perhaps Quest Star, and can outstay the poorly drawn Denon, who may not be his most effective at this trip.

Gardenia

Bare Necessities is a legitimate favorite, as the three triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures she has earned in her last three starts are better than what most of these have ever earned. However, she didn't draw great, having to break from the outside post 9, and she has been away for a little while, so I'm going to try to upset her with Lead Story.

Lead Story was no match for Bare Necessities at Hawthorne in April, but that was a different time and place. Lead Story ran the best race of her life Beyer-wise last time out, winning a stakes in her first career start at Ellis. And, with the horses breaking from the inside three posts all having at least some speed, Lead Story may get a contested pace to set up her late kick.