11/13/2003 12:00AM

Mountaineer Mile contenders: Not the usual suspects


As recently as August, Sonic West was racing at Ellis Park in an allowance race restricted to nonwinners of two. In October, Pay the Preacher was preparing to make his first start in more than a year - on the turf.

It seems unlikely, then, that either Sonic West or Pay the Preacher would be running in a dirt stakes race worth $100,000. In fact, they are two of the prime contenders in Saturday night's Mountaineer Mile at Mountaineer Race Track.

Sonic West has gotten very good since winning that allowance race in early August. He won stakes races in his two starts that followed, including the nine-furlong Fall Handicap at Mountaineer in late September. Sonic West was then ambitiously placed in the Grade 3 Fayette at Keeneland, where he finished only 2 1/2 lengths behind Tenpins, the beaten favorite who missed by just a length.

Pay the Preacher, a 5-year-old trained by Michael Dickinson, reeled off three consecutive 100-plus Beyer Speed Figures against stakes competition in Florida. But those races all came in 2002. He was laid off for a year before making a comeback in a pair of turf stakes this fall, including the Grade 2 Kelso in New York. Back on dirt for the third start of his form cycle, Pay the Preacher should be dangerous on Saturday.

A familiar face at Mountaineer could be the Mile favorite. Thistledown-based Tour the Hive has made 13 of his 46 career starts at Mountaineer, highlighted by stakes wins in the one-mile Labor Day Handicap and the six-furlong Mountaineer HBPA in his last two starts.

With a short run to the first turn, Peace and Joy could be a threat to steal the race on the front end breaking from the rail. A 4-year-old gelding, Peace and Joy was recently reclaimed by trainer Mike Pino, whose 31 percent success this season indicates he rarely makes a mistake by running his stock at the wrong level. Peace and Joy has strictly been a claiming horse, running for a tag as low as $12,500 as recently as July, but the Beyers he earned winning two of his last three starts - 96 and 103 - indicate he can be competitive with this field.