06/26/2004 12:00AM

Multiplication holds on by neck

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Multiplication repelled an early pace challenge from Friendly Island and held off the closer Work With Me to win Saturday's $113,900 Mike Lee Handicap by a neck at Belmont Park.

Swinging Ghost, who looked like he was going to win the race up the rail, finished third, a neck behind Work With Me. Friendly Island, the even-money favorite off a 17 1/4-length maiden score, faded to seventh after dueling for the lead.

The Mike Lee is the first leg of the Big Apple Triple, sponsored by four of the state's Off-Track Betting corporations. Should Multiplication go on to win the New York Derby at Finger Lakes on July 17 and the Albany Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 25, he will earn owner James McIngvale a bonus of $250,000.

Multiplication, trained by Bob Baffert, will have to learn how to harness his speed if he is to successfully negotiate the two turns required in the New York Derby and Albany.

Jockey Edgar Prado hustled Multiplication out of the gate, and Multiplication dueled inside of Friendly Island through fractions of 22.23 seconds and 44.28. Multiplication opened up a huge advantage turning for home, and, despite drifting out through the stretch, got to the wire first. Multiplication, a son of Subordination who cost $300,000 at auction, covered the seven furlongs in 1:22.56 and returned $8.10 to win.

"He's got that Californian speed,'' Prado said. "I was a little worried at the eighth pole because he had run so fast, but he kept giving me all he had. He dug in every step of the way.''

Multiplication, trained in California by Bob Baffert, won his maiden on May 22 at Hollywood Park after being disqualified from a maiden win at that track three weeks earlier. Baffert shipped Multiplication here because he had "quarter-crack issues,'' according to Tonja Terranova, who takes care of Baffert's horses when they ship east.

Gold Joy upsets Tremont

Gold Joy, a well-beaten third behind Primal Storm and Winning Expression in the Grade 3 Flash Stakes here June 4, turned the tables Saturday, rallying from last in the four-horse field to win the $100,000 Tremont Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths.

Winning Expression finished second, three lengths ahead of the 3-5 favorite Primal Storm. June the Tiger was last.

A New York-bred son of Joyeux Danseur owned by Ken Taylor and John Salzman Jr., Gold Joy covered the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.89 under Mike Luzzi and returned $31.80 as the longest shot in the race.

"He ran by the winner last time galloping out," Luzzi said. "Today, he broke almost too good. I had to take him back and let him start getting the dirt [in his face]. Once he got the dirt, he let go a little bit."

Jockey Shane Sellers blamed the muddy surface for Primal Storm's first defeat from three starts. Primal Storm won the Flash by seven lengths over a fast track.

"If they caught me inside the sixteenth pole or went fast fractions and got beat, I would have been disappointed in his performance," Sellers said. "I pretty much knew I was beat on the turn when [Winning Expression] put the pressure on me and I couldn't get away from them easy."