06/30/2004 11:00PM

Not so lonely at the top so far in '04


NEW YORK - The calendar says that half the year was over this past Thursday, but we're not even a third of the way there when it comes to racing's most important events. As of July 1, only 32 of this year's 100 Grade 1 races had been run.

That leaves 68 percent of the elite races to go, but already there is plenty of evidence that this is unfolding as a very different racing season from the 2003 version, with an emphasis on sharing the wealth, and winners coming from unexpected places, both geographically and parimutuelly.

A year ago at this halfway point, Bobby Frankel and Jerry Bailey had already turned the Grade 1 standings into a runaway en route to the individual records they set by season's end. Frankel had won 12 Grade 1's and Bailey 11 by the end of June, nearly half of the respective marks of 25 and 26 they would reach.

This year, instead of 12 and 11 by July 1, they have 2 and 3. Frankel and Bailey teamed to win the Donn with Medaglia d'Oro and the Ogden Phipps with Sightseek, and Bailey also won the Woodford Reserve with Stroll.

Frankel's two Grade 1's put him in a six-way tie atop the trainers' list along with Wally Dollase (A.P. Adventure in the Las Virgenes and Meteor Storm in the Manhattan), Paulo Lobo (Pico Central in the Carter and Metropolitan), D. Wayne Lukas (Azeri in the Apple Blossom and Stellar Jayne in the Mother Goose), Mike Machowsky (Southern Image in the Santa Anita Handicap and Pimlico Special), John Servis (Smarty Jones in the Derby and Preakness), and Nick Zito (The Cliff's Edge in the Blue Grass and Birdstone in the Belmont).

While Azeri and Empire Maker each had won three Grade 1's by the end of last June, no horse has won three yet this year. Pico Central, Smarty Jones, and Southern Image are the only winners of two.

Bailey's three Grade 1's put him in only a three-way tie for second this year. Alex Solis leads the nation with four (A.P. Adventure, Pico Central's pair, and Victory Encounter's Vanity). Victor Espinoza (Star Parade's Santa Maria and Southern Image's pair) and Mike Smith (Adoration's Santa Margarita, Azeri's Apple Blossom, and Noches de Rosa's Gamely) also have three. Stewart Elliott, Edgar Prado, and Jose Valdivia have two apiece.

Besides the much tighter standings, the other things that stand out about this year so far are the large numbers of foreign-bred winners and longshots.

A quarter of this year's 32 Grade 1's have been won by horses bred outside North America, with seven different horses from six different nations accounting for those eight victories. In addition to Brazilian-bred Pico Central and his two victories, his compatriot Hard Buck took the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup; Star Parade (Argentina) won the Santa Maria; Castledale (Ireland) won the Santa Anita Derby; Noches de Rosa (Chile) won the Gamely; Meteor Storm (Great Britain) won the Manhattan; and Sabiango (Germany) won the Whittingham.

In 2003, only three of the year's 101 Grade 1's ended with a winner who paid $60 or more, but in 2004 we have already had five in just 32 races: Colonial Colony at 62-1 in the Stephen Foster, Friends Lake at 37-1 in the Florida Derby, Birdstone at 36-1 in the Belmont, Castledale at 30-1 in the Santa Anita Derby, and Stellar Jayne at 29-1 in the Mother Goose.

The average winning Beyer Speed Figure in this year's 32 Grade 1's has been a 105; the average for last year's 101 such races was a 106. This year's best is Smarty Jones's 118 in the Preakness, a smidge better than Medaglia d'Oro's 117 in the Donn and Southern Image's 117 in the Pimlico Special. Five of last year's Grade 1's, all run in August or later, earned a figure of better than 118: Candy Ride's Pacific Classic (123), Aldebaran's Forego (122), Cajun Beat's Breeders' Cup Sprint (120), Congaree's Cigar Mile (120), and Pleasantly Perfect's Breeders' Cup Classic (119).

No owner has more than one Grade 1 winner this year, and only Juddmonte Farms has bred two (Meteor Storm and Sightseek). Three stallions have each sired two different Grade 1 winners: the predictable A.P. Indy (A.P. Adventure, Friends Lake), his son Pulpit (Tapit, Stroll), and the late Spend a Buck (Pico Central, Hard Buck).

All these stats are subject to imminent change with 30 Grade 1's on the schedule for July and August, starting with five this Saturday alone - the Prioress and Suburban at Belmont, the Triple Bend and American Oaks at Hollywood, and the United Nations at Monmouth. Ignore any South Americans and 30-1 shots at your own peril.