10/29/2003 12:00AM

Quest Star heading east instead of west

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Trainer Elliott Walden thought enough of Quest Star that he briefly flirted with the idea of sending him to California for either the Breeders' Cup Classic or the Turf.

"When all those defections were being announced, we thought about running in either one," Walden said. "I think he'll dirt; it's something that I'm going to try with him next year. Anyway, we decided not to do that. Better judgment prevailed.

"The Turf, there were three horses within six inches of each other, and any time that happens you're going to be fourth, fifth, or sixth or [worse]."

So, having scrapped a trip to California, Walden and Quest Star's owners, Mansell Stables, will ship their horse east for Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Knickerbocker Handicap at Aqueduct. The Knickerbocker is run at nine furlongs over the turf course.

Though he won his maiden on dirt early in his 3-year-old year, Quest Star has proven to be more proficient on turf. At 3, Quest Star won the Grade 2 National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga. This year, he won the Grade 2 Pan American Handicap at Gulfstream. Quest Star has lost his last four starts, finishing second in graded events such as the Bowling Green at Belmont, the Fourstardave at Saratoga, and, in his last start, the Kentucky Cup Turf Handicap at Kentucky Downs.

"The Fourstardave I was very pleased with, cutting back in distance to be on the lead in 1:09-and-three," Walden said. "I was a little disappointed in the Bowling Green. His last race he didn't run a great race - I don't know what to make of it. It was a competitive group of horses and he was right there. He's been a mark of consistency; he shows up every time."

John Velazquez will ride Quest Star in the Knickerbocker.

At 118 pounds, Quest Star will be co-highweight in the Knickerbocker with Slew Valley, who is 0 for 13 since winning an optional claimer on June 6, 2001. Others expected to run include Tau Ceti (116), Political Attack (115), Millennium Dragon (114), Tam's Terms (114), defending Knickerbocker winner Dawn of the Condor (113), Move Those Chains (113), and Speed of Light (110). Del Mar Show (116) and Willards Straight (110) are possible.

No plans for Funny Cide

Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide came out of his ninth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic none the worse for wear, his connections reported Wednesday, but it is uncertain whether he will run again this year.

Trainer Barclay Tagg said he wanted to watch the horse train before deciding whether to try to find a race for him this year or wait until next year.

"I haven't figured out what we want to do," Tagg said. "Forget about a schedule."

There are limited options for Tagg should he elect to run Funny Cide again this year. The Clark Handicap on Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs or the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 29 are the most prestigious races in which Funny Cide could run, but Tagg didn't sound inclined to run in either one. Easier spots in the handicap division include the Queens County over Aqueduct's inner track on Dec. 6 or the Fred Hooper Handicap at Calder on Dec. 27. Both Grade 3 races are worth $100,000.

An endoscopic examination on Funny Cide revealed only the presence of "a gallon of dirt" in his throat, assistant trainer Robin Smullen said, but no mucus or blood.

"Physically, he's fine," Smullen said. "It's not like he needs R and R, but it's not going to hurt him any."

Tagg declined to comment when asked if he felt that Funny Cide's Classic performance hurt the gelding's chances of winning an Eclipse Award as the nation's top 3-year-old.

Hampshire finds winner's circle

Joe Hampshire, who is the perennial leading rider in New England and has moved his tack here for the winter, made a successful Aqueduct debut Wednesday, winning the meet's first race aboard 2-5 favorite Manitoy ($2.80). Wednesday also happened to be Hampshire's 40th birthday. The victory was the 2,993rd of Hampshire's career, which began in 1982.

Hampshire, who has won the last eight riding titles at Suffolk Downs, has moved his tack to New York because of the closure of Suffolk for six months. Manitoy was Hampshire's only ride Wednesday, because his other scheduled mount was scratched.

"I think it was extremely important for me to get off to a good start," said Hampshire, who rode Manitoy for trainer Peter Bazeos, also a New England mainstay for years. "Peter has been good to me all my life. He told he'd put me on a good one right away, and this one was much the best."

Max Hall, who several years ago brought Norberto Arroyo Jr. here, is representing Hampshire.

"Max was very influential for my decision to come here," Hampshire said. "He told me I had more than enough talent, I have enough wisdom, and he said with a little bit of luck we can do well here."