08/26/2003 12:00AM

Praise the Prince danger at weights

Anofferucantrefuse (8) clears a fence en route to his Smithwick win on Aug. 7. He's the one to catch Thursday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Two years ago, everyone from the racing secretary to the betting public expected Praise the Prince to win the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup. But the 160-pound weight assignment proved too much as Praise the Prince checked in third as the 2-5 favorite.

Thursday, when the $100,000 NYTW Cup is run for the 62nd time, the weight will be less and the price should be higher when Praise the Prince, under 150 pounds, meets 11 rivals in the 2 3/8-mile steeplechase event. The NYTW Cup will be run as the final race on the nine-race card. Pick six players should note that Thursday's pick six is offered on races 3 through 8, and will not include the steeplechase.

Praise the Prince has only one win in eight starts since winning the 2001 A.P. Smithwick here. But he has never been worse than third since coming to North America in 2000, is coming off a decent second-place finish in last month's A.P. Smithwick, and gets reunited with jockey Gus Brown, who has had the most success on Praise the Prince.

"He knows him better than anybody else knows him, and Gus is good in the big races," trainer Sanna Hendriks said. "I think he should run well. He's trained really well and in both his races I didn't feel like we emptied the gas tank. I like that we don't have to carry top weight."

Hendriks also feels like Praise the Prince could be better suited to the 2 3/8 miles than some of his rivals, including the speedy Anofferucantrefuse who won the Smithwick. Anofferucantrefuse is the one to catch and beat again; he's trained by Tom Voss, who has won four steeplechase races at this meet.

Trainer Jonathan Sheppard has won 11 runnings of the NYTW Cup, and this year he'll saddle longshot Hotspur. Although Hotspur has not won in 16 months, he gets in with a feathery 140 pounds and is coming off a second-place finish in an allowance race over the course on July 31.

"We feel that he'll like the extra distance. He really stays well," Sheppard said. "We know we're taking a bit of a shot because he's not quite proven at this level, but he had a good race up here over the track, seems to be training well, he's got a fairly good break in the weights."

Mulahen defeated Hotspur by eight lengths in that July 31race - his second straight victory - but must prove himself at the distance in here.

Il Capitano, a stakes winner in England, is the 158-pound highweight in this race.