11/21/2002 1:00AM

Red Smith to show Classic Par's stuff


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - "I love New York," said Edgar Prado. "The competition is great. The horses are great. In every 2-year-old race there is a potential champion, and in many allowance races a champion is competing."

The feeling is mutual, and mutuel. New York loves Edgar Prado. Since he began riding regularly on the Big Apple circuit in July of 1999, he has brought another world-class talent to the scene. He is concluding an outstanding season, and his $17.3 million in purses won ranks him second in the national standings to Jerry Bailey.

Prado has proven himself, time and again, and now he enjoys a wide level of trust. He has ridden such good ones as Denon, Repent, Harlan's Holiday, Sky Mesa, Take Charge Lady, Thunderello, and many others of quality.

His mount in Saturday's $150,000 Red Smith Handicap, the last grass stakes of the New York season, doesn't have that kind of reputation yet. But there is evidence that Classic Par is moving in the right direction. The Red Smith, at 1 3/8 miles, should tell us a lot more about the quality of Classic Par, a homebred son of the Nijinsky stallion Sky Classic.

"He's a pleasure to have in the barn," trainer Randy Schulhofer said. "He is quiet and all business. He is not a big horse physically but he works like a big horse. He was transferred to our barn last summer and we ran him one time at Belmont Park. He raced closer to the pace than usual, and it was an encouraging performance."

Classic Par is owned and was bred by Vernon Heath of St. Paul, Minn., who heads an accounting firm. A longtime racing fan, he came into the game in 1986 with the assistance of Bentley Smith. Smith introduced him to Scott Dudley of Ocala, Fla., who recommended the purchase of Prospector's Halo. He won about $250,000 and has sired almost 20 stakes horses.

Heath's best-known horse was Exogenous, who won the Grade 1 Gazelle and Beldame Stakes in the fall of 2001. Well regarded for the Breeders' Cup Distaff, she became frightened by the large crowd at Belmont Park when she emerged from the tunnel linking the paddock with the track. She jammed a foot through a wrought-iron fence, panicked, and was severely injured. She later was euthanized.

Heath bought a filly named Par Three in foal to Spend a Buck. The foal was Adhocracy, a winner of almost $500,000. Another filly out of Par Three was Magic Par, who won her first start but never won again. Heath bred her to Sky Classic to produce Classic Par. He won at 2, then chipped an ankle, and was out of action for many months.

"There is a great deal of uncertainty to the Red Smith Handicap because of the weather," Schulhofer said. "The course is likely to be soft and not every horse will like it. But Classic Par is genuine and we'll take our chances with him.

"We're also running Michael and Lynn Shanley's Whitmore's Conn in the race, and he deserves consideration. He won the Bowling Green last summer and gave a good account in the Turf Classic. He's got credentials."