09/20/2007 12:00AM

Pace could trip up some favorites

EmailELMONT, N.Y. - Naturally, everyone at Belmont Park is looking ahead to next Sunday's blockbuster program of four Grade 1 stakes. This Saturday is comparatively calm, with a pair of Grade 2 stakes that drew five-horse fields, so handicappers can be forgiven if their attention wanders from the Brooklyn Handicap and the Gallant Bloom to the stakes-filled cards at Calder, Suffolk Downs, Turfway Park, and Louisiana Downs. Indeed, two of the more interesting races of the day are at Louisiana Downs, where Grasshopper heads the Super Derby, and Costa Rising is the one to catch and beat in the Unbridled Breeders' Cup Handicap.


Finding out how good Any Given Saturday is may have to wait until Breeders' Cup Day, because even the staunchest contrarians will have trouble inventing a scenario for him to get beat in this dress rehearsal.

Okay, here's one: Any Given Saturday's breakthrough Beyer Speed Figure of 110 in the Dwyer came about with the benefit of a slow pace. In terms of Quirin-style pace and speed figures, I had it 102-110 - a remarkably slow pace for a Grade 2 stakes around one turn. In the Haskell, he had ideal early position on a very strong rail before easing out and drawing away from two colts who contested all three legs of the Triple Crown.

Awesome Twist, Sightseeing, and Helsinki have no early speed whatsoever, but Tasteyville certainly does: He was close to a six-furlong fraction of 1:08 chasing subsequent Tom Fool winner High Finance here in May, and then wired a third-level allowance mile cutting a pace of 45.45 seconds and 1:09.63. In four route victories, Any Given Saturday has never had to cope with a half-mile faster than 47 seconds, so Tasteyville is potentially loose on the lead here and may get brave.

Gallant Bloom

Great Intentions has a 3-1-0 record from four starts at Belmont, including a four-length triumph in this race last year, but has not been out since stopping in the Barbara Fritchie seven months ago.

It's also difficult to get a handle on Jazzy, an Argentine-bred mare who ran her first seven races in South Africa and has never run on dirt.

Princess Janie has been first or second in all but one start, but the exception was a distant fifth-place finish in the Acorn on this track. Moreover, she is back 24 days after posting a new top figure at Monmouth first time out in two months, a form cycle-track switch pattern that mimics what led to her poor Acorn race.

Pussycat Doll is a multiple Grade 1 winner at seven furlongs, but her form deteriorated noticeably during the summer.

The bounce-back play is Cuaba, who ran a lifetime top Beyer of 99 in a stalking-trip win off a 45-day freshening, and then bounced to an 80 in an overnight stakes after dueling through a torrid pace. Her Quirin-style figures for the two races - 106-108 for the win and 113-100 last out - reflect similar expenditures of total energy, but it was distributed much differently. It's the classic pace concept of energy used early not being available late.

Super Derby and Unbridled BC

Handicappers face the same question in the last two legs of a $100,000-guaranteed pick four: what to do with Grasshopper and Costa Rica, who are coming off double Beyer tops. Many speed-figure theorists believe that if one big jump to a new top doesn't cause a horse to bounce, then two will, so both can be considered vulnerable to some degree.

At Saratoga, the late-blooming Grasshopper improved 14 points off his previous top to a 105, and returned with a 107 in the Travers - a race in which he was subjected to a stretch-long drive pinned inside Street Sense. By all accounts he has trained well since then, but post 9 is no help, and he is probably going to be odds-on.

Leonnatus Anteas and Past the Point have some intriguing aspects to their records. Leonnatus Anteas is stretching out after beginning his form cycle with two sprints, the same longstanding positive pattern that triggered Grasshopper's rise to prominence. It's also appealing that those races were on turf, given trainer Kevin Attard's 4-for-9 record and $14.19 return on investment turf to dirt.

Past the Point has a wet-track pedigree, which may help to explain how he worked six furlongs in 1:11.18 recently on Saratoga's Oklahoma training track - an unheard-of time over that relatively deep surface. Even so, the Darley Stable colt has a top-shelf background, and we probably haven't seen the best of him after only four starts.

If the inaugural Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile were run at Evangeline Downs, the hands-down favorite would be Costa Rising, whose two starts under those conditions resulted in wins by nearly 30 combined lengths and Beyers of 114 and 117. He is 2 for 2 on turf at Louisiana Downs, but 87 is his best number on that course, and he ran an 89 in his only other grass start, at Churchill Downs.

If the free-running Costa Rising gets hooked in a pace duel with Gigawatt in the Unbridled BC, that could set the table for either Go Between, a Grade 2 winner on turf for Bill Mott, or Corey County, who comes off a sharply improved effort first back from a layoff for Neil Drysdale.