12/17/2003 12:00AM

Pocus Hocus pulls out of Ladies

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Pocus Hocus, the 117-pound highweight for Saturday's $100,000 Ladies Handicap, will miss the race after working poorly, and two other nominees won't run because they are just getting over illnesses.

On Tuesday, Pocus Hocus, who won the Grade 3 Turnback the Alarm on Nov. 1, worked five furlongs in a lethargic 1:06.06 over Belmont Park's training track. Jimmy Jerkens, who trains Pocus Hocus, said it was the second time in a row Pocus Hocus didn't work to his satisfaction.

"It's so unlike her; maybe she is trying to tell us something," Jerkens said. "She might be harboring something, although she scoped cleaned. But her work cast so much doubt, we aren't going to run."

Next in the weights for the Grade 3 Ladies at 116 pounds is the Jerkens-trained Message Red, who is getting over a virus and won't run. Jerkens said he was hit hard by the influenza bug that struck several barns at Belmont Park recently. Other trainers that reported having sick horses are Linda Rice and Shug McGaughey.

Buzz Tenney, McGaughey's assistant, said Alchemist, a nominee to the Ladies, is over her sickness but will not run.

The McGaughey barn will run Lady Liberty, the expected starting highweight at 114 pounds, and Retroactive, who was assigned 113 pounds. Lady Liberty worked three furlongs in 37.94 seconds Tuesday at Belmont. Retroactive covered the same distance in 36.96.

A weak field is taking shape for the 1 1/4-mile Ladies. The other probables are Caught in the Rain, Consort Music, Julie's Prize, Kabylia, Queen's Triomphe, and Savedbythelight. City Fire is a possibility.

Illness figures aren't abnormal

Dr. Anthony Verderosa, an examining veterinarian for the New York Racing Association, said there have been "pockets" of horses with respiratory illnesses in the last couple of months at Belmont Park and Aqueduct, but the number of sick horses is not dramatically different than any other year.

Verderosa said it's not uncommon for horses to become sick this time of year, when a large number of horses come here from out-of-state tracks that have recently closed. Occasionally, those horses introduce a virus that spreads to the other horses on the grounds.

West Virginia earns stakes win

West Virginia's win in Wednesday's $83,675 Damon Runyon Stakes at Aqueduct didn't come easily. The even-money favorite, West Virginia shook off a strong challenge from Salty Character in deep stretch to win the New York-bred stakes by a neck.

Delta Ghost finished third, six lengths behind Salty Character, in the nine-horse field of 2-year-olds.

West Virginia, ridden by Richard Migliore, was close to the early pace and took the lead at the half-mile pole.

"He wanted [the win]," said Migliore, the leading rider at the inner-track meet. "With an outside post, I knew I had to come out running, but I didn't want to overdo it and get too wide around the first turn."

West Virginia ($4) covered the 1 1/16-mile distance of the Damon Runyon in 1:47.84 over a sloppy track.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, West Virginia is owned by his breeders, Donald and Mary Zuckerman. The Damon Runyon was West Virginia's second stakes win. He also won the Great White Way, a division of the New York Stallion Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 9.

The Damon Runyon was originally scheduled for Sunday but was postponed because of a snowstorm.

DeMasi stables in New York

For the last several years, trainer Kate DeMasi has shipped the occasional horse from her Philadelphia Park home base to run in New York, but it wasn't until this year that she had a division stabled here.

DeMasi has 10 horses at Belmont Park with her assistant, Robbie Freeman. DeMasi, 40, got off to a fast start at the inner-track meet by winning with her second starter, Above the Devil, on Dec. 4. A 2-year-old New York-bred filly owned by DeMasi, Above the Devil won a maiden statebred race and paid $28.20.

"I thought it was time to make the jump to [New York]," said DeMasi, who plans on being active at the claim box this winter. "Philadelphia is a great base, but I have some horses that I thought would fit in New York in the winter. Last year, whenever we would ship this one horse to run at Aqueduct, the races would be canceled because of the weather. At least now, we don't have to ship - we're there."

In addition to Above the Devil, DeMasi said she has three other New York-breds in her New York string. DeMasi, who has 35 horses at Philadelphia Park, has won 61 races this year from 514 starters.

Gravesend attracts strong field

Sunday's Grade 3, $100,000 Gravesend is shaping up to be a terrific race. The probable favorite and 124-pound highweight is Shake You Down, who worked a bullet five furlongs in 1:00.02 on Tuesday at Belmont. Way to the Top, another probable starter, sizzled in a half-mile move in 47.25 seconds, the fastest of 47 works at the distance on Tuesday at Belmont.

The six-furlong Gravesend is also expected to attract Peeping Tom, Presidentialaffair, Gators N Bears, and Papua. Crossing Point and Highway Prospector are possible starters.