06/20/2001 11:00PM

No one comes close to Beautiful Pleasure

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ELMONT, N.Y. ? Under different circumstances, Beautiful Pleasure probably would have been retired at the end of her 5-year-old season. After all, she clinched an Eclipse Award by winning the 1999 Breeders' Cup Distaff at age 4, and last year won or placed in four Grade 1 stakes, along with a triumph in the Grade 2 Shuvee Handicap.

Beautiful Pleasure certainly has nothing left to prove. But she returns on Saturday, and will be looking to go back to back in the Hempstead Handicap for two reasons:

* The Breeders' Cup is at Belmont Park this fall, where Beautiful Pleasure is 4-2-0 from seven starts. Her last four Beyer Speed Figures at Belmont are 112-109-113-113.

* The rest of the division runs that fast in their dreams.

The connections of recent stakes winners may protest otherwise, but an objective review of this year's filly-and-mare stakes races leads to one conclusion: When put up against last year, the division pales by comparison.

A year ago, for example, Heritage of Gold won the Fleur de Lis Handicap with a Beyer of 115. A 101 in the 2000 Fleur de Lis wouldn't have gotten Saudi Poetry much of anything except for a face full of dirt, but a 101 was enough for her to win this year's renewal last Saturday.

The comment line in Beautiful Pleasure's past performances says she was "On her own courage" wiring the 2000 Hempstead by more than seven lengths with a 109 Beyer. It will be interesting to see if she's still got her fastball, because so far the New York stakes leading up to the Hempstead have been won in remarkably similar manner. That is, set or prompt an easy pace, and then sprint the final three-eighths or so.

Consider:

Beautiful Pleasure won the 2000 Shuvee with a 113 Beyer. Apple of Kent comes out of a front-running win in the Shuvee for which she earned a 102. That Shuvee was an exceptionally slow-paced Grade 2 stakes, where the fourth quarter (23.73 seconds) was faster than the first (24.11). Trainer John Kimmel offered a refreshingly realistic assessment of Apple of Kent, who is 2 for 2 at Belmont, saying, "It's too early to say, but she has to improve for me to get excited about any potential of running in the [Breeders' Cup] Distaff."

Meanwhile, Critical Eye (lifetime top Beyer of 104) snapped a five-race losing streak most recently in the off-the-turf Sheepshead Bay Handicap, a marathon at 1 3/8 miles in which she prompted splits of 25.29, 50.33, and 1:15.03. Beautiful Pleasure jogs that fast.

After a stretch-long drive, Serra Lake and Jostle were necks apart when one-two in the recent Pimlico Distaff. They each received a 99 Beyer.

These fillies and mares may be in for a rude awakening, because none of them can beat Beautiful Pleasure by cruising along at a comfortable clip, and then running in earnest for three furlongs. That's for the first half of the season.

Why can't conflicts be avoided?

The powers that be may little note nor long remember, but while we're on the subject of the Fleur de Lis, I would respectfully like to lodge a complaint on behalf of myself and everyone else who got a strained neck trying to watch two televisions at once last Saturday.

Anyone who watched last Saturday's races knows the off time for Churchill's Fleur de Lis was 4:46 p.m., which was also the off time for Belmont's Vagrancy Handicap.

Simultaneous starts drive horseplayers crazy, especially when it's a pair of graded stakes everyone wants to watch closely.

When there are 18 minutes to post for stakes at two major tracks, somebody in a position of authority call an audible! Both races are part of pick four sequences at each track. Someone from track one needs to get on the phone with someone from the other track and space the races a few minutes apart.

It's not rocket science. Haven't we for years seen racetrack executives jump through hoops to accommodate the TV networks? Whatever happened to accommodating the customer?