12/17/2004 12:00AM

Pace of race favors Gators N Bears

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Early speed is a potent weapon on Aqueduct's inner dirt track, but a race can set up nicely for a stalker when there are several speed burners in front of him, and that appears to be the scenario for Gators N Bears in Sunday's 46th running of the Grade 3 Gravesend Handicap, the final graded stakes of the year in New York.

The Maryland-based Gators N Bears is the deserving highweight at 121 pounds in the six-furlong Gravesend, and will spot seven rivals from seven to nine pounds. He should find this an easier spot than last year's renewal, when he ran third to the multiple stakes winner Shake You Down.

Gators N Bears, who breaks from post 5 with Javier Castellano, was making the 13th start of his 3-year-old campaign when third in this race a year ago. But he has had a far more moderate schedule at age 4, winning 3 of 7 starts, all in stakes company for trainer Leo Nechamkin.

One of his best races this year was a third-place finish at Saratoga in the A.G. Vanderbilt Handicap, behind Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Speightstown.

was sidelined for more than three months after the Vanderbilt. He finished fourth when making his return in the Grade 1 De Francis Memorial Dash four weeks ago.

"I missed some time with him over the fall because of a stone bruise and abscess, and coming back in a Grade 1 is never easy," Nechamkin said. "He lost more ground than he got beat."

A reliable stalker, Gators N Bears should be set up nicely due to the presence of early-pace runners , a fast colt making his first start off a trainer change to Scott Lake; Uncle Camie, who ran a 44.36-second half-mile setting the pace in the recent Fall Highweight; and Ameri Brilliance, who holds track records at Mountaineer Park and Timonium.

"I've always wanted to try him on the inner track because he's so fast," said Ben Feliciano Jr., trainer of Ameri Brilliance. "I was a little disappointed to hear Don Six is running, because he's got a lot of gas too, but we're just going to let our horse roll and see what happens."

Also in the lineup are , who comes in with the best last-out Beyer Speed Figure (106), earned in a victory against optional claiming/allowance rivals; Papua, a troubled second in the Fall Highweight, and 5 for 7 lifetime on the inner track; Black Silk, who has won 4 of 7 starts this year; and Eavesdropper, a fast-closing third in the Fall Highweight.