08/27/2003 11:00PM

Pletcher pair top Hopeful

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Limehouse wins the Three Chimneys. He and barnmate Chapel Royal give meet-leading trainer Todd Pletcher the hand to beat in the Hopeful.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Todd Pletcher has already won sevens stakes with his 2-year-olds this year. But now that the Grade 1 races are approaching, Pletcher won't be satisfied until he grabs at least one of those.

"There's added pressure when you have these horses that have Grade 1 potential," Pletcher said. "You got to go ahead and get it done."

Chapel Royal and Limehouse are two of Pletcher's 2-year-olds who have shown Grade 1 potential. Each will get a chance to earn his first Grade 1 in Saturday's $200,000 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga.

A field of nine was entered for the Hopeful, run at seven furlongs, including the impressive first-out winner Birdstone and a trio of horses from trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The Hopeful kicks off the Bessemer Trust 2-Year-Old Challenge, a series of races that will be broadcast live on CNBC. Saturday's one-hour telecast will be from 4-5 p.m. Eastern.

Chapel Royal and Limehouse have combined to win six of seven starts including four stakes. Chapel Royal, a son of Montbrook who fetched $1.2 million at auction in February, is the likely favorite. He has won his three starts by a combined 20 1/4 lengths and is coming off a victory in the Grade 2 Sanford in which he showed the ability to come from off the pace.

"We asked him to do something that isn't easy for a 2-year-old to do and that was to change his style a little bit on a surface that was off," said Pletcher, who trains Chapel Royal for Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith. "We asked him to sit behind horses and take dirt and slop in his face and when Johnny [Velazquez] pulled him out at the top of the stretch he kicked in."

Chapel Royal will break from the outside post under Velazquez.

Limehouse may not get the attention that Chapel Royal gets, but he has accomplished just as much. Limehouse, a son of Grand Slam owned by Dogwood Stable, also won his first three starts, including two stakes. He suffered his first career defeat in the Saratoga Special, finishing third behind Cuvee, who relished the sloppy conditions.

Pletcher said he is running Limehouse in the Hopeful because it is better spacing to the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 4 than if Pletcher had waited for the Futurity at Belmont on Sept. 14. Pletcher isn't thrilled to be running Limehouse against Chapel Royal.

"If I had to pick one of the horses in my barn that was high up on the list not to run against [Chapel Royal] would be one of them," he said. "All that being said, Limehouse is an accomplished horse in his own right, a multiple stakes winner. He was unlucky to catch a sloppy track in the Saratoga Special."

The horse with the best chance of keeping Pletcher out of the winner's circle is Birdstone, a half-brother to Kentucky Oaks winner Bird Town. Both of those horses are owned by Marylou Whitney and trained by Nick Zito.

Birdstone won his maiden by 12 1/2 lengths on Aug. 2, stalking dueling leaders until the top of the stretch and drawing off emphatically under Edgar Prado. Birdstone covered six furlongs in 1:10.32.

"To me the most impressive thing was the end of the race, the way he finished," Zito said. "He lived up to the expectations."

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas will send out Desert Patrol for Overbrook Farm and either Hasslefree or Golden Tones for Bob and Beverly Lewis. Cornelio Velasquez is named on both of the Lewis horses, meaning only one is eligible run.

Hasslefree appears to be Lukas's best chance as he is coming out of strong entry-level allowance victory on July 31. He was no match, however, for Chapel Royal in the Flash Stakes.

Desert Patrol is only 1 for 3, but his maiden win on dry footing was superb while his two losses came on wet tracks. Pat Day rides from post 2.

Silver Wagon was a 7 1/2-length winner of a maiden race here on Aug. 8 and is the only horse in this field to have won at seven furlongs. Saratoga Episode, from the same connections who brought you Funny Cide, and Notorious Rogue complete field.

THE FIELD

Hopeful Stakes

Purse: $200,000; 7 furlongs; Grade 1

PPHORSEJOCKEYODDS
1Notorious RogueE. Coa15-1
2Desert PatrolP. Day12-1
3HasslefreeC. Velasquez8-1
4LimehouseR. Albarado6-1
5Silver WagonJ. Bailey 10-1
6Golden TonesC. Velasquez8-1
7BirdstoneE. Prado5-2
8Saratoga EpisodeJ. Castellano20-1
9Chapel RoyalJ. Velazquez6-5

* All starters carry 122 pounds

* Coupled: Hasslefree and Golden Tones

* Odds by Michael Hammersly

* Television: Saturday, 4-5 p.m. (Eastern), CNBC