11/25/2004 1:00AM

'Pico' out to sway skeptics

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Pico Central, a strong candidate for champion sprinter, goes for his fourth Grade 1 win of the year Saturday.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Trainer Paulo Lobo feels Pico Central doesn't have to do any more than he already has to be named champion sprinter. Unfortunately for Lobo and owner Gary Tanaka, there may be some Eclipse Award voters who need more convincing.

Pico Central will have the opportunity to sway any undecided voters on Saturday when he heads a solid field of nine in the Grade 1, $350,000 at Aqueduct. The Cigar tops an excellent 10-race card that includes a showdown of unbeaten 2-year-old colts Rockport Harbor and Galloping Grocer in the $200,000 Remsen; the $200,000 Demoiselle pitting Sis City versus Salute; and the return of Fountain of Youth winner Read the Footnotes in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race. First post is noon Eastern.

If Pico Central adds the Cigar Mile to victories in the Carter, Metropolitan Handicap, and Vosburgh, he would become the first male horse to win four Grade 1 races in New York in the same year since In Excess did it in 1991. In Excess lost out on champion older horse to Black Tie Affair, who won the Breeders' Cup Classic.

This year, Pico Central is in the running for the sprint championship with Speightstown, who won the Breeders' Cup Sprint and three Grade 2 stakes. Pico Central, who beat Speightstown in the Vosburgh, skipped the Breeders' Cup because his connections would have had to pay a hefty $200,000 supplemental fee to run.

"The problem was the money; too high for a million-dollar purse,'' said Lobo, who added he was happy Speightstown won the Sprint "because a month before we defeated him in the Vosburgh.

I think [Pico Central] has done enough to be champion sprinter.''

Lobo feels Pico Central is stronger and more versatile than he was when he came here in the spring for the Carter.

"You can send him to the lead or he can track the leaders,'' Lobo said. "He's doing very well.''

Pico Central may have to use his early speed because he drew the rail. Pico Central will carry top weight of 123 pounds under jockey Victor Espinoza.

Pico Central's primary challengers in the Cigar Mile will be Kela, Purge, and Badge of Silver.

Kela handed Pico Central his only loss this year, in the Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap at Del Mar in August. Kela came back to finish second behind Speightstown in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Trainer Mike Mitchell believes the Cigar Mile is a perfect fit for his 6-year-old Kela, who will break from post 8 under 121 pounds and Tyler Baze.

"As much respect as I have for Pico Central and I've always just loved that horse . . . I think my horse will really love a one-turn mile,'' Mitchell said. "I got to think it's his best distance.''

Purge, the only 3-year-old in the field, will be making his first start since finishing fourth in the Travers. He came out of that race with a severely bruised foot and trainer Todd Pletcher could not get him ready for the Jockey Club Gold Cup or Breeders' Cup.

Pletcher targeted the Cigar Mile and, given Purge's propensity to run well fresh, purposely trained him up to this. Purge put forth a career-best performance winning the Jim Dandy off a two-month layoff. Purge's second-best performance came in the Peter Pan, a one-turn race run at nine furlongs.

Pletcher is the trainer of Speightstown and believes that horse has a strong case for the championship.

"I think if Pico Central wants to be champion sprinter, he's going to need to leave little doubt in the Cigar Mile,'' Pletcher said.

Pletcher will also send out Lion Tamer, a multiple-graded-stakes winner in the spring who comes off a solid second-place finish in the Sport Page Handicap.

When right, Badge of Silver is a very talented horse. He was scratched out of the Carter when he developed a callus-like growth called a keratoma in his foot. He comes off a solid second-place finish in an optional claimer at Belmont on Oct. 16. Jerry Bailey thought enough of the way Badge of Silver trained this summer to ride him over Kela.

The field

Cigar Mile
Purse: $350,000; 1 mile; Grade 1

1Pico CentralV. Espinoza1236-5
2Unforgettable MaxC. Velasquez11430-1
3PotrisunriseM. Luzzi11450-1
4PurgeJ. Velazquez1165-1
5Lion TamerJ. Santos11512-1
6Badge of SilverJ. Bailey1157-2
7VoodooJ. Chavez11520-1
8KelaT. Baze1215-2
9DuringR. Bejarano11630-1

* Odds by Art Gropper