10/16/2002 11:00PM

No shortage of true contenders in Mohawk

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Contention runs deep in Saturday's $150,000 Mohawk Handicap with statebred stakes winners Celtic Sky and I'm All Yours pitted against graded stakes winners Finality and Whitmore's Conn.

The Mohawk, run at nine furlongs on turf, drew an overflow of 14 entrants - including one for the main track only.

Since August 2001, I'm All Yours has won the three of the four statebred stakes in which he has run, including last year's Mohawk. His late-running style makes for some anxious moments for his backers, but he rarely fails to fire. He has handled soft turf as well as firm, though trainer Todd Pletcher would prefer firm ground.

"I would say he's better on firm turf, but he'll run on anything,'' said Pletcher, whose horse will break from post 9 under Jerry Bailey. "I suppose if it's really soft it would be hard to come with an explosive turn of foot, which is his game.''

Pletcher also entered Finality, winner of the Grade 2 Jamaica Handicap in his last start. Pletcher scratched Finality out of last week's Lawrence Realization when it was rained off the grass and said Finality may not run if the turf were too soft.

Celtic Sky defeated I'm All Yours in the West Point, but finished third to him in the Ashley T. Cole. Trainer Christophe Clement believes soft turf would benefit both Celtic Sky and his other entrant, Bicentennial.

Whitmore's Conn won the Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap and was competitive in both the Sword Dancer and Turf Classic - both Grade 1 events. Whitmore's Conn must carry top weight of 124 pounds. Trainer Randy Schulhofer worries the nine furlongs may be too short for him.

Reluctant Groom consistently runs well in these races, but rarely wins. Statement was second in the Mohawk last year, but has not been out since January.

Shopping for Love's farewell

The $150,000 Ticonderoga could signify a passing of the torch in the statebred filly and mare turf division when Shopping for Love faces Eventail.

Shopping for Love, who won this race as a 3-year-old, makes her final start before being sold next month, presumably as a broodmare prospect.

Shopping for Love is coming off perhaps the best performance of her 24-race career, winning the Maryland Million Ladies at Pimlico by 7 1/4 lengths, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 102. Two starts before that she won a division of the Mt. Vernon here by four lengths.

"Her last two [turf] races, they were dynamite,'' trainer Kenny Nesky said. "That's why I hate to see her go.''

Bailey is 2 for 2 aboard Shopping for Love on turf and will ride the 122-pound highweight from post 11.

Eventail, who was beaten a head in this race a year ago, won the faster division of the Mt. Vernon here in June. Since then, Eventail defeated a solid field of open company allowance horses in Saratoga before running a troubled sixth in the Grade 3 Violet Handicap at The Meadowlands.

"I think we're definitely on par with [Shopping for Love],'' trainer Richard Schosberg said. "She's coming off a very big effort down in Maryland. This is where it comes down to who wins the New York bred turf championship for fillies and mares. I think she's got the jump on us. If we get lucky and win this thing it's a tossup who gets it.''

Edgar Prado rides Eventail from post 7 under 120 pounds.