06/23/2002 11:00PM

Rapadash stirs high hopes

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Tom Skiffington is still trying to determine over which surface and at what distance his Irish-bred 3-year-old Rapadash will flourish. He should find out more Wednesday when he saddles Rapadash in a very competitive second-level allowance race for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Belmont Park.

Rapadash, who is 2 for 4 on dirt and 0 for 3 on turf, has run twice for Skiffington, winning an entry-level allowance race at Keeneland and finishing third in the Grade 3 Jersey Derby on turf at Monmouth Park.

Although he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of only 77 for his allowance win, it was visually impressive. Last early, Rapadash had to go six wide turning for home and was still good enough to win going away. In the Jersey Derby, Rapadash was well back before making a run, but was no match for loose-on-the-lead winner Emergency Status.

"I was pretty encouraged by that race in Keeneland, and he also won a listed race on dirt in Europe," Skiffington said. "I saw a tape of that race and he finished up real strong and he carried a lot of weight."

Skiffington said Rapadash is built like a miler, but doesn't believe an extra sixteenth of a mile would compromise him. Skiffington hopes Rapadash runs well enough to consider wheeling him back in the Dwyer Stakes on July 7.

Quest is another 3-year-old in the field with stakes aspirations. Trainer Nick Zito would like to run Quest in the Jim Dandy and Travers this summer at Saratoga. Quest is 2 for 4 and comes off an allowance win at Belmont on May 26. He has come back with a string of solid workouts including a best-of-42 half-mile move in 48 seconds on June 18 at Saratoga.

The horse in the field with the most noteworthy past is Thunder Blitz, winner of last year's Flamingo Stakes and the fourth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby. Thunder Blitz is 0 for 2 this year, but he had a horrible trip while finishing sixth at this level on June 8. After breaking inward at the start, Thunder Blitz was bottled up on the inside coming off the turn and then had to steady in the stretch.

"That's an understatement," trainer Joe Orseno said. "He never had a chance. He was in trouble from start to finish."

Expect, who could be the speed of the race; Jackpot, winner of his last two races on fast tracks; Prime Customer, who finished ahead of Thunder Blitz and Expect in the aforementioned June 8 race; and Tailsfromthecrypt complete the field.

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