06/05/2002 11:00PM

Not yet ready to tackle big boys

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ELMONT, N.Y. - If not for an unfortunate incident at the start of his second race, Yankee Gentleman may have actually been ready for Saturday's Belmont Stakes. Instead, he makes his stakes debut on the undercard in the $200,000 Riva Ridge Breeders' Cup, a race that, despite being void of a graded stakes winner, drew a strong group of 3-year-old sprinters.

A son of Storm Cat trained by Bill Mott, Yankee Gentleman was impressive winning his maiden by 11 lengths at Gulfstream Park on March 16. He was bet down to 1-5 in an entry-level allowance on Wood Memorial Day, but stumbled three jumps out of the gate and unseated jockey Jerry Bailey. So, instead of being ready for races like the Withers and/or Peter Pan, Yankee Gentleman ran back in his entry-level allowance condition, winning a 1 1/16-mile race by five lengths.

"This is probably what he's ready for,'' Bailey said. "If he's as good as I think he is, then he is ready for it.''

While Yankee Gentleman has been on the lead in his two victories, Bailey believes that's more a product of breaking from an inside post. Saturday, Yankee Gentleman will leave from the outside post in the nine-horse field.

"I got options this time,'' Bailey said. "If somebody's really intent on having the lead then I can sit.''

True Direction, a son of French Deputy, has won three straight races, including the Hirsch Jacobs on Preakness Day. He was wearing blinkers for the first time in that race, something trainer Carlos Morales felt helped the horse focus more. Morales also believes True Direction will enjoy the extra furlong of the Riva Ridge.

"In my opinion, that's going to be his best distance,'' Morales said.

With the plethora of speed in the field, Gygistar could be the horse to beat from off the pace. Gygistar romped to a 10 1/2-length victory in the Hallandale Beach Handicap at Gulfstream Park on April 20. Trainer Mark Hennig gave his horse ample time to recover from the effort.

"Even though it looks like he won real easy it still takes a lot out of them when they run that fast,'' Hennig said. "I know my jock [Eibar Coa] has a lot of confidence.''

Other contenders in the Riva Ridge include Draw Play, Day Trader, and Warners.

Explicit takes second crack at True North

California shipper Explicit, third in last year's True North, takes another stab at the Grade 2 sprint and is the likely favorite.

Explicit, a winner of two stakes this year, is one of eight older males entered in the $250,000 True North Breeders' Cup Handicap, a six-furlong race.

Since his third in last year's True North, Explicit underwent surgery to remove a chip in his knee. When he returned to the races in January, Explicit was slow to get going but he really picked it up this spring when he won the Pelleteri Breeders' Cup in Louisiana and the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint in Arkansas. In his last start, Explicit finished second in the Grade 3 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Sprint behind Mellow Fellow on May 11. Explicit's trainer, Ian Jory, blames himself for the 1 1/4-length loss. Explicit blew the clear lead he had in the stretch.

"The only reason he got beat was because I didn't work him hard enough," Jory said. "I underestimated the winner."

Lonnie Meche, whom Jory said is a good fit for Explicit, has the mount on the 119-pound highweight. Explicit drew post 7 and should be a pace factor.

Entepreneur, who has been beaten twice by Explicit this year, will try to turn the tables on his nemesis. Entepreneur was a 3 1/2-length winner of a money allowance at Churchill Downs on May 4.

Pat Day rides Entepreneur, who has tactical speed.

Yonaguska, who hasn't run since a loss in an allowance race in January, was at the top of his game last fall when he won the Sport Page and Fall Highweight in New York.

Lots of speed in WNBC

An evenly matched field of 13 fillies and mares was entered for the $65,000 WNBC Stakes run at one mile. Imadeed, beaten a nose in a close photo in this race a year ago, may have a better chance if she can rate like she has shown two races back.

Ellie's Moment looks like the best closer in the speed-laden field. She defeated Shiny Band when winning her maiden in her only previous Belmont start.

Other contenders include Pleasant County, Too Scarlet, Transcendental, and Belle Artiste.

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson