06/08/2006 12:00AM

A paceless Manhattan

Grey Swallow, with assistant trainer Bobby Dolan, is co-highweight with English Channel in the Manhattan.

ELMONT, N.Y. - If it ever stops raining long enough to run races on the grass, Saturday's Grade 1, $400,000 Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park should offer bettors plenty of options, and, in the end, the handicap turf division could have a clear leader.

The field of nine entered for the Manhattan, scheduled for 1 1/4 miles on Belmont's inner turf course, includes winners of major stakes this year in Florida, Kentucky, and California. It also includes a pair of Grade 1 winners from last year, including the defending Manhattan winner, Good Reward.

What the Manhattan lacks, however, is pace. That figures to enhance the chances of the two starting highweights, English Channel and Grey Swallow.

, a son of Smart Strike trained by Todd Pletcher, is versatile on two fronts. First, he has been successful racing on or just off the pace. Second, he has run equally well on soft or firm ground. Belmont's turf most likely will be soft Saturday. English Channel is 2 for 2 this year, with wins in the Canadian Turf Handicap and the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. In both races, he was stalking a moderate pace. He ran well in a pair of 1 1/4-mile turf races last year, winning the Virginia Derby and finishing second in the Secretariat.

"As long as he gets to relax," said John Velazquez, the regular rider of English Channel. "I don't think he's an aggressive horse, and I don't think he'll be aggressive on that ground."

began his career in Europe and caught mostly good to firm ground. He won the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup last summer at The Curragh in Ireland over yielding ground. He finished third to Relaxed Gesture - also entered in the Manhattan - in the Canadian International on yielding turf last October at Woodbine.

"That was at the end of a long, hard year for my horse, and he still ran a cracking race," said Bobby Dolan, the assistant to trainer Dermot Weld. "With a little luck I think he'll get his revenge on him in this race. It's more of a European track. He'll be at home on that."

Grey Swallow comes off a five-length victory in the Grade 2 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap over firm ground at Hollywood Park. Alex Solis rides from post 5.

Though Cacique raced 11 times in Europe, most of the courses on which he raced were labeled good, which in Europe equates to firm. He has suffered two narrow losses here, including a fourth, beaten a neck, in the Frank Kilroe Mile despite an absurdly wide trip. He was also beaten a half-length by English Channel in the Turf Classic, and Frankel said he believes Cacique had an excuse.

"He was right outside of English Channel down the backside," said Frankel. "Next thing you know, he's behind him with no place to go for a while. English Channel got away from him."

Frankel makes a rider change from Patrick Valenzuela to Edgar Prado for the Manhattan.

finished one-two in last year's Manhattan, but they could be compromised this year. Good Reward prefers firm ground, and Relaxed Gesture could not get a prep race that trainer Christophe Clement was hoping for. Relaxed Gesture finished 12th in the Dubai Sheema Classic on March 25.

Trainer Bill Mott has won the Manhattan three times and has a live longshot in Silver Whistle, who comes off a win in the Grade 3 Pan American Handicap last time. Silver Whistle lost three photos in stakes last year. He is 2 for 2 over the Belmont turf, and worked extremely well over soft ground here on Monday.

"He'll still have to improve to win one of these races," Mott said. "I would say as a 3-year-old he was very, very green. It just took him some time to mature and get himself together. He doesn't quicken real well. He has more of a long run to him."

Dreadnaught, Sabre d'Argent, and Interpatation complete the field.

The field

Manhattan Handicap
Purse: $400,000; 1 1/4 miles, turf; Grade 1

1Good RewardJ. Castellano11812-1
2Relaxed GestureK. Desormeaux1195-1
3Sabre d'ArgentE. Coa11420-1
4CaciqueE. Prado1203-1
5Grey SwallowA. Solis1223-1
6 InterpatationT. Turner11330-1
7Silver WhistleC. Velasquez11612-1
8English ChannelJ. Velazquez1225-2
9DreadnaughtG. Gomez11515-1

* Blinkers off: Dreadnaught
* Track odds
* Television: Saturday, 3:30-6 p.m. (Eastern), ESPN