05/20/2004 11:00PM

Quantum Merit makes quick return

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ELMONT, N.Y. - After an easy win in an optional claimer two weeks ago, Quantum Merit is the one to beat in the $100,000-added Kingston Handicap for New York-breds on Sunday at Belmont Park.

Quantum Merit is the 121-pound highweight in the 1 1/8-mile turf race. Ten horses made the body of the race. There are two also-eligibles, and three main-track-only entries.

Last year, won two 1 1/8-mile grass races in an eight-day span at Belmont. One of those wins came in the Ashley T. Cole Handicap, which he won by 3 3/4 lengths. He ended his 2003 campaign with a 2 1/2-length win in the Cormorant at Aqueduct while packing 124 pounds.

In his only start this year and his first since November, Quantum Merit, now 5, defeated a good field in a mile race at Belmont on May 9, earning a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 102. Although he has proven he can win on quick turnarounds, Quantum Merit's trainer, Del Carroll II, is taking a cautious approach to Sunday's race.

"I'm still concerned because he put in a lot of run two weeks ago," Carroll said.

On the other hand, Carroll added, "He hasn't missed an oat, and the trainer is probably more concerned about the two weeks than he is."

Richard Migliore will ride Quantum Merit, who will be among the front-runners, from post 7.

Carroll could also have the horse to beat if the race is run on dirt. Carroll's main-track-only entry, Levendis, finished second to Gander in the Kings Point earlier this month.

A lively pace would benefit , who is coming off an easy win against statebreds on April 21 at Aqueduct. Last year as a 3-year-old, Golden Commander wasn't a factor against stakes horses in the Mohawk, but this year could be a different story. Golden Commander is trained by Phil Serpe, whose runners are doing very well at the meet.

Edgar Prado will ride Golden Commander from the rail.

, who beat Golden Commander in an allowance race at Belmont last fall, is another top contender. The gelding, who won his first start of the year on May 1 at Pimlico in an optional claimer, has won three races at Belmont and gets the services of Jerry Bailey.

, a 6-year-old gelding making his first start since September, won the Kingston in 2002 and finished second last year. He seeks his first win since the West Point in August 2002.