07/04/2008 11:00PM

Opportunity knocks in United Nations

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - The road to the Breeders' Cup starts Saturday with the first two Breeders' Cup Challenge Win and You're In races - the United Nations Stakes and the Salvator Mile - at Monmouth Park.

The program has expanded to 57 races in its second year, with the winners gaining automatic berths in corresponding Breeders' Cup races at Santa Anita on Oct. 24 and 25.

The winner of the United Nations receives a slot in the Breeders' Cup Turf while the Salvator winner heads to the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

The $750,000 United Nations will be final event on a 12-race card with a 6:45 p.m. Eastern post time. The U.N. and the Grade 3, $300,000 Salvator Mile can both be seen live on "NTRA Summer Racing" on ESPN2 starting at 6 p.m.

The United Nations is the second-richest race of the meet and joins the $1 million Haskell as the two Grade 1 races contested every summer at Monmouth.

In the past, the U.N. has been a magnet for Grade 1 winners, with recent runnings attracting top turf runners such as Better Talk Now and English Channel.

The field is not as strong this time. This year, one of the U.N. runners will ascend to the Grade 1 ranks for the first time.

Trainer Bobby Frankel has two promising contenders in Champs Elysees and Sudan. He entered both, but will run only one.

"I'm going to enter and look and see who's in the race," Frankel said.

Champs Elysees makes his second straight start in a Grade 1 grass race, having run sixth at 4-5 in the Charlie Whittingham Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 7, an effort Frankel chalks up to illness.

"He had a lung infection and his blood was bad," Frankel said. "He maybe missed two or three days training. We jumped on it right away and put him on some antibiotics. He now seems like he's fine."

Champs Elysees has made five starts in graded stakes since coming to Frankel late last year. The 5-year-old has the pedigree to be a Grade 1 winner as a full brother to Cacique, Intercontinental, and Banks Hill.

Sudan, a Group 1 winner in Italy, most recently scored a front-running victory in the Grade 3 Golden Gate Fields Turf Stakes on May 31.

"I thought he ran pretty good," Frankel said. "I didn't see a number on it, but he ran pretty good.''

Ramon Dominguez was named on both Frankel horses.

A Grade 1 win by Presious Passion would be a dream come true for trainer Mary Hartmann, a native New Jerseyian.

"A win for me would be all too much, more than I've ever expected," Hartmann said.

The only Monmouth-based horse in the race, Presious Passion most recently ran second in the slop in the off-the-turf Battlefield Stakes.

The 5-year-old Presious Passion had a productive winner in Florida, winning a pair of handicaps: the Grade 2 W.L. McKnight at Calder and the Grade 3 Pan American at Gulfstream Park. Both wins came at 1 1/2 miles, putting the 1 3/8-mile United Nations well within his scope.

"Since he's gotten older, he's handling surfaces and distances better," Hartmann said. "The farther, the better."

Eddie Castro will ride.

Distance is concern for Independent George, who has mostly raced from one mile to 1 1/16 miles, including his win last time out in the Sussex Stakes at Delaware Park.

"It's a big step," trainer Graham Motion said. "It's a little bit of an unknown whether he'll handle the distance. We felt that Monmouth would be a good place to try."

Motion ran Better Talk Now in the last three United Nations, winning in 2005.

Independent George was cross-entered in the Presque Isle Mile on July 4.

Completing the field are Buddy's Humor, Crown Point, Equitable, Ra Der Dean and Strike a Deal.

- additional reporting by David Grening