12/10/2002 1:00AM

Pletcher argues Left Bank's case


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Though Left Bank is gone, trainer Todd Pletcher hopes he will not be forgotten in Eclipse Award voting for handicap horse of the year. Eclipse ballots will be mailed out on Friday and must be returned by Dec. 31.

Though Left Bank died in October from complications following colic surgery, Pletcher believes the horse accomplished enough to warrant serious consideration for a divisional award. Left Bank figures to be competing for the award against such horses as Street Cry, Volponi, Evening Attire, Lido Palace, and possibly Orientate. Orientate is likely to be voted sprint champion.

Left Bank went 3 for 4 this year with wins in the Bold Ruler, Tom Fool, and Whitney handicaps.

In the Tom Fool, Left Bank's final time of 1:20.17 for seven furlongs broke an 8-year-old track record set by You and I. In the Whitney, in which he defeated Street Cry, Lido Palace, and Macho Uno, Left Bank ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.04, equaling a 28-year-old Saratoga track record established by Tri Jet.

"The thing that I think measures greatness is when you do something that no one else has done," Pletcher said. "Left Bank has done some stuff that no one else has done. Some of the great horses of the past, like Spectacular Bid, did some amazing things, and I think Left Bank fits that criteria based on what he did in those two races. The biggest disappointment is the horse isn't around to benefit should he win an Eclipse Award. I guess it would be a saving grace, so to speak."

Pletcher believes the only other horses to be considered for the award are Street Cry, who won the Dubai World Cup and Stephen Foster Handicap, and Volponi, who won the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Pletcher notes that Left Bank defeated Street Cry the only time they met, in the Whitney, and Street Cry also never raced again after that race. He retired in September with an ankle injury.

Volponi went 3 for 8 for the year with wins in the Breeders' Cup Classic and Grade 3 Poker Handicap on turf. He finished second, beaten less than a length in the Bernard Baruch Handicap and Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap, and was beaten two lengths in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer.

Trainer Phil Johnson said Volponi deserves consideration as a dual surface stakes winner who beat the best horses in the world in the season's most prestigious race.

"I don't think he should be penalized for his versatility," Johnson said. "It was no fluke in the Classic. It's a fluke if you slip through on the rail and win by a head. He overpowered them. It's out there if anybody wants to study it."

Xtra Heat assigned 127 for 'Roses'

Xtra Heat was assigned highweight of 127 pounds for Saturday's $75,000 Garland of Roses Handicap. Trainer John Salzman said he will accept the assignment and ship last year's 3-year-old filly champion to New York for the ungraded, six-furlong race.

"Yeah, I'm going to run," Salzman said from Xtra Heat's home base at Maryland. "Got no choice. Not many places to go. I'm never happy about the weight."

Xtra Heat, who is 3 for 3 over the inner track, will concede 11 to 15 pounds to a field that is expected to include Dat You Miz Blue (116 pounds), Belle Artiste (114), Redhead Riot (114), Astrid (113), Outstanding Info (113), and Saskya (112). Bonefide Reason (113) is listed as a possible starter.

Xtra Heat, who has not run since finishing sixth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, has three workouts since the race including a half-mile move in 48.60 seconds last Saturday at Laurel Park.

"She's training fine, she's bucking and kicking," Salzman said.

Wilzada will not face Xtra Heat

Wilzada, who may have had the best chance of beating Xtra Heat, will not run in the Garland of Roses, trainer Anthony Dutrow said Tuesday.

"It isn't worth it to me to run Wilzada for $75,000 in a non-graded race against Xtra Heat," Dutrow said. "I don't have anything to gain. I don't need the race, I don't see the point, and I'm not going to do it."

Wilzada, who has won 4 or her last 5 starts and 7 of 10 overall, will likely be pointed to the Interborough Handicap here on New Year's Day - provided Xtra Heat doesn't show up. Xtra Heat won this year's Interborough Handicap after scratching out of the Garland of Roses because of a cough.

"I hope Xtra Heat doesn't run in every sprint race that's out there," Dutrow said.

Meanwhile, Dutrow said that Elegant Designer, winner of the Great State Juvenile Fillies last weekend, will make her next start in the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Oaks at Santa Anita on Jan. 25. The Sunshine Millions pits Florida-breds versus California-breds in races at Santa Anita and Gulfstream. Elegant Designer is a Florida-bred.