11/24/2005 1:00AM

Much softer spot for Saint Stephen


MIAMI - It isn't often a horse exiting a three-length setback in a Grade 1 stakes ends up in a race such as Saturday's $40,000 Pass the Line Handicap at Calder. But that will be the case when trainer Christophe Clement sends out Saint Stephen against 11 rivals in the 7 1/2-furlong overnight stakes on the turf.

Saint Stephen has not started since finishing sixth, beaten three lengths by Good Reward and less than 2 1/2 lengths by Breeders' Cup Mile winner Artie Schiller in the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap on June 11. The Manhattan marked the stakes debut for the late-developing Saint Stephen, who struggled to win his entry-level allowance condition before suddenly flourishing in south Florida last winter.

Saint Stephen reeled off three consecutive come-from-behind wins, beginning with a 1 1/2-length second-level allowance decision Feb. 19 at Gulfstream Park. He earned a career-best 103 Beyer Speed Figure defeating optional $100,000 claiming foes at Belmont on May 13 before finishing an even sixth in the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan.

Clement gave Saint Stephen all of the summer and much of the fall off following the Manhattan but has gotten a steady series of works into the son of Saint Ballado in preparation for his return, including a bullet half-mile in 49.60 seconds at Payson Park earlier this week. Chris DeCarlo has the call.

For those who think the combination of the long layoff, tough post (11), and a turn back to an unfamiliar distance might make it worth trying to beat Saint Stephen at a short price, there are many alternatives in a lineup that features plenty of early speed.

Keep Cool may be the most accomplished of the locals, with two stakes wins here this year, but he does his best running on the front end and is poorly drawn in gate 12.

Hear No Evil is also a stakes winner this year, at Tampa Bay Downs, but is another front-running type who has had just one start since May 30.

Ricardo A. ships in from The Meadowlands off a main-track victory in the Alysheba Stakes on Oct. 29, but he, too, does his best running on the lead.

Runnintothealter showed some ability to rate off the pace before finishing second behind New Science as the even-money favorite under allowance conditions earlier this month, and could benefit from the turn back in distance and his inside post.

Gin Rummy Champ has the ability to pass horses down the stretch, but is a non-winning sort with just 3 victories in 25 starts.