06/26/2003 12:00AM

Pletcher loaded for Tremont


ELMONT, N.Y. - For a 2-year-old stakes race this early in the year, Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Tremont at Belmont Park came up extremely strong.

Precocious juveniles from top 2-year-old trainers Todd Pletcher, D. Wayne Lukas, and Steve Asmussen comprise six of the eight entrants in the 5 1/2-furlong race.

Pletcher, who is 7 for 10 in juvenile races at this meet, has entered the trio of Korsakoff, Heckle, and Limehouse, though Limehouse is expected to scratch and run in the Bashford Manor next weekend at Churchill Downs.

Heckle, owned by Dogwood Stable, equaled Keeneland's track record for 4 1/2 furlongs (51.04 seconds) when he won his maiden by 12 1/2 lengths in the slop. Sent off the 1-2 favorite in the Three Chimneys at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, Heckle finished a disappointing fourth, beaten five lengths by Limehouse.

"I was a little bit surprised that he didn't run a little better than he did, but we surmised he displaced his palate,'' Pletcher said. "We've added a tongue-tie since then, and he's trained well. I think he'll run a better race.''

Korsakoff, Pletcher's other entrant in the Tremont, also won his maiden impressively at Keeneland, but finished sixth in the Three Chimneys.

"He broke slowly, and didn't really get into the game,'' Pletcher said. "I don't think he handled the crowd situation quite as well as I would have liked to have seen him; he was a little unruly in the paddock. He never seemed to get on track yet he only got beat six lengths. He's trained better since then. His last couple of breezes have been very good.''

Lukas has won the Tremont four times. Saturday, he will send out the uncoupled entry of Adage and Hasslefree.

Adage, a half-brother to multiple stakes winner Swearingen, won his maiden in his second start at Churchill. The horse he beat, Mr. Trieste, came back to win. Hasslefree comes off a second-place finish to Chapel Royal in the Flash, and figures to be on near the early lead following a sharp gate workout Monday.

The Lukas barn has struggled mightily on the NYRA circuit this year, posting a 3 for 64 mark. Lukas runners are 0 for 47 in New York since Boston Park won the Whirlaway Stakes over the inner track Feb. 8.

The Asmussen-trained Best to Be King ships in from Churchill Downs coming off a most impressive May 24 debut win in which he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 95. Jerry Bailey has the call from the outside post.