09/10/2003 11:00PM

Rain would add spice to four bland stakes


ELMONT, N.Y. - The late-summer weather has been delightful the past week or so, but there are four stakes races on Belmont's Saturday program so of course rain is in the forecast. In this particular case, though, at least some rain would add a little intrigue to the Floral Park, Belmont Breeders' Cup, Jerome Handicap, and Ruffian Handicap, which otherwise shape up as one collective yawn in terms of divisional positioning.

Floral Park: Shine Again is as genuine as they come. Whether they run on a fast track, in the slop, or over broken bottles, it doesn't matter to Shine Again, who has finished in the money in 29 of her 32 starts, and was denied a third straight Ballerina win only because of a four-wide trip through the length of the turn at Saratoga.

The interesting newcomer to the filly sprinter stakes division is Bauhauser, an import from Argentina whose classified allowance win second time out in the U.S. earned a Beyer Figure good enough to be competitive at this level. Though the track was officially labeled fast for Bauhasuer's win, it was a drying-out surface that had started off as "good" for the first three races on the card and still contained some moisture. Moreover, Bauhauser ran in the slop once in Argentina, and won by eight lengths - while carrying 130 pounds!

Another wet track move-up is Forest Heiress, who posted back-to-back wins in slop and mud during the spring.

Belmont Breeders' Cup: By far the most interesting race among Saturday's stakes quartet, if only because it is the first time Volponi goes back to the turf since running second in this race a year ago.

One way or another, Volponi has been a surprise package to horseplayers through his last dozen starts. During that time, Volponi won the Poker Handicap at 9-1 on turf, and shocked the racing world by winning the Breeders' Cup Classic at 43-1 on dirt. Interspersed among those triumphs, however, are eight runner-up finishes and five losses as the favorite, four of those defeats at odds-on.

Volponi should be fairly comfortable with nine furlongs on Belmont's inner turf course, because those were the conditions for his win in the Pilgrim Stakes in the fall of his 2-year-old season. On the other hand, Volponi's nine lifetime turf races have all come on firm ground, so rain-softened footing would introduce an element of the unknown, and at a short price to boot.

In Volponi's favor is the fact that this is not the strongest Grade 2 grass field ever assembled. Political Attack, winner of the Grade 3 Canadian Turf Handicap at Gulfstream Park more than six months ago, is the only entrant with a graded stakes win this year.

Jerome Handicap: If thunder and lightning are pounding the track, that would be okay with Pretty Wild, who on this weekend last year ran second in the Futurity through a driving rainstorm - on a track labeled good but probably closer to muddy. Pretty Wild returned from an injury to win a seven-furlong allowance in 1:21.50 on Travers Day, and he ran faster than Valid Video went (1:22.14) in winning the King's Bishop. Nevertheless, Pretty Wild's Beyer came back a 104, and Valid Video got a 107, an indication that Beyer's figure-making team may have split their variant for the day.

Inamorato and During are two contenders whose chances would seemingly be ruined by slop or mud. Inamorato was a well-beaten third in two starts on wet tracks earlier this summer, but improved significantly on a fast track last time out. The worst race of During's life was the muddy Bay Shore back in April, when he backed up to finish seventh as the favorite.

Ruffian Handicap: A bunch of horses in Bobby Frankel's barn are reportedly still coughing. Sightseek is among them, so Wild Spirit is her last-minute replacement.

But could she be in danger of getting sick, too? And what about her uncoupled stablemate You, who was next to last in the Ballerina last time out?

After Beyering 106 and 110 to win her first two starts in the U.S., the Chilean import Wild Spirit was hemmed in along the inside at 1-5 in the Personal Ensign, took over when a hole opened in the stretch, but was caught at the wire by Passing Shot, who came again on the outside in a total stunner of a result. Perhaps Wild Spirit bounced, or perhaps she didn't like the surface, or perhaps she didn't like being inside.

That's a lot of "perhapses" for an odds-on favorite.

Passing Shot, meanwhile, was 2 for 14 lifetime and going nowhere earlier this summer, yet she now enters the Ruffian as the only member of the field to have won a Grade 1 race this year.

Come on rain.