11/08/2007 1:00AM

Red Smith favorite hard to find

EmailOZONE PARK, N.Y. - Anyone who cashes a ticket on Saturday's $150,000 Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct figures to get rewarded handsomely as the Grade 2 race came up an indecipherable affair where selecting the favorite may be just as difficult as picking the winner.

The combination of the Red Smith being the last graded turf stakes of the year for males in New York, and the lack of a standout, brought 20 entries and only 12 can run.

When a handicap stakes overfills, highweights get preference and gross lifetime earnings are used to break ties. By that standard, Operation Red Dawn was the last horse to draw into the field. But he may be the one with the most upside in this 1 3/8-mile race.

Operation Red Dawn, trained by Christophe Clement, has run only three times this year, winning two allowance races and finishing third in the Grade 3 Knickerbocker Handicap over this course last month. In one of his allowance wins, Operation Red Dawn defeated Red Giant, who emerged from that race to win two stakes, including the Virginia Derby.

In the Knickerbocker, Operation Red Dawn got shuffled back to seventh, 10 lengths off the pace around the far turn, but came with a strong late run despite having to alter course in midstretch and was beaten only 1 1/4 lengths.

"At the half-mile pole he was going nowhere, but he took off from the quarter pole to the wire,'' said Clement, who planned to evaluate the competition, post draw, and weather before committing to run.

When told that rain was in the forecast Friday night into Saturday morning, Clement said, "The more rain the better.''

Channing Hill rides Operation Red Dawn from post 6.

True Cause and Encinas finished second and fifth, respectively, behind Tricky Causeway in the slow-paced Awad Stakes. True Cause got shuffled back entering the far turn before his late rally fell a neck short.

"That was a crazy race,'' said Rick Mettee, who oversees Godolphin Racing's New York string. "We're hoping he's just an improving horse. He's shown he can get the mile and three-eighths.''

Mettee noted True Cause would prefer firm ground.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin felt Encinas was in need of a race in the Awad and expects his horse to move forward in the Red Smith.

Dreadnaught won the 2004 Red Smith and finished third in it in 2005. He is 1 for his last 25, however. Trainer Tom Voss removes blinkers from Dreadnaught's equipment, a move he made prior to the 2004 Red Smith.