08/08/2004 11:00PM

Roses in May on road to BC Classic

From left at Monday's Hall of Fame ceremonies in Saratoga Springs: Elliott Burch; Patrice Wolfson; Liliane Winkfield Casey; Carolyn Hine; trainer Shug McGaughey; and jockey Kent Desormeaux.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Now that Roses in May has established himself as a major contender in the handicap division, trainer Dale Romans has some decisions to make. And he's in no hurry to make them.

Roses in May joined the handicap elite with a gritty nose victory over Perfect Drift in Saturday's Grade 1 Whitney Handicap. He is now 4 for 4 this year and 6 for 9 lifetime.

"I think it's one of the prestigious races of the year. He won it, it wasn't a gift. He had to run game, run hard the whole way to get it," Romans said. "I think that makes him a contender."

Romans said Roses in May would be pointed to the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30. How Romans gets him there is still under discussion. Romans said it is likely that Roses in May would get just one more start before the Breeders' Cup.

"He likes to run fresh," said Romans, who trains Roses in May for Ken and Sarah Ramsey. "That was only his fourth start of the year."

The $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park and the $750,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup are both 10-furlong races run on Oct. 2.

From a timing standpoint, the $350,000 Kentucky Cup Classic, a nine-furlong race at Turfway Park on Sept. 18, may make the most sense. It's six weeks from the Whitney and six weeks to the Breeders' Cup.

Romans noted that Cat Thief, winner of the 1999 Breeders' Cup Classic, used the Kentucky Cup as a prep for the Breeders' Cup.

On Monday, Romans was still basking in the delight of his first Grade 1 victory. Romans said he was impressed by the way Roses in May sat behind the front-running Yessirgeneralsir.

"The fact he didn't mind sitting behind the speed makes him a lot more dangerous," Romans said.

Perfect Drift back in Kentucky

Whitney runner-up Perfect Drift returned to Louisville on Sunday night. Trainer Murray Johnson said his horse came out of the race in good order, but he has not decided on a next race. Johnson said he wasn't sure he would point Perfect Drift to the Breeders' Cup.

Johnson said the pre-entry and entry fees are cost-prohibitive, especially if the horse doesn't earn a check.

"The Breeders' Cup option is not a very good option for us, when there are a lot of international races out there," Johnson said. "There are a lot of good races out there, hopefully we can run in two or three of them and hopefully do well in them, then see what we do after that."

Trainer Bobby Frankel said he had no plans for Peace Rules, who finished sixth as the favorite in the Whitney. Frankel said he considered scratching Peace Rules when showers hit the track earlier in the day, but he kept him in. The track was labeled fast for the Whitney.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Seattle Fitz, who finished last in the Whitney, would come back in the Grade 1 Woodward at Belmont Park on Sept. 11.

"We won going two turns at Pimlico, but really the best races of his life have been one turn," McLaughlin said. "We'll point that way."

Bwana Charlie bound for King's Bishop

Trainer Steve Asmussen came to Saratoga hoping to run Cuvee in the Grade 1 King's Bishop on Aug. 28. But, weather and sickness have cost Cuvee valuable time, and he won't make that race.

But Asmussen has a more than suitable replacement in Bwana Charlie, who won Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Amsterdam Stakes by three-quarters of a length over Pomeroy on Saturday. He earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 105 for the effort.

"He got a fast pace and he was good enough to take advantage of it," Asmussen said. "Pomeroy was a little jeopardized by his [outside] post position, and he'll be awfully tough back."

As for Cuvee, last year's Saratoga Special winner breezed three furlongs in 39.67 seconds on Sunday over the Oklahoma training track. Cuvee has had little activity since finishing second in the Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 8.

Asmussen said Cuvee got "really sick on us" at Churchill Downs, and missed some training time when the first week of this meet was marred by rain.

"We'll let him tell us when he's ready instead of me trying to pick out races for him," Asmussen said.

Ghostzapper-Speightstown showdown looms

A foot problem forced Ghostzapper to miss the Whitney, but he will be ready to run in this Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap. Ghostzapper, who won the Grade 2 Tom Fool Handicap on July 4, worked five furlongs in 1:00.43 on Sunday over the main track.

Ghostzapper will square off against Speightstown, who is 3 for 3 this year including a victory in the Grade 2 True North Breeders' Cup Handicap. On Sunday, Speightstown breezed five furlongs in 59.11 seconds, in company with Alabama contender Ashado.

Ghostzapper was assigned high weight of 122 pounds, three more than Speightstown. Others expected to run include Gators N Bears (118), Clock Stopper (115), My Cousin Matt (114), Mike's Classic (113), and Gold Dollar (112). Valid Video (116), last year's King's Bishop winner, is possible.

On Sunday, at Pimlico, Gators N Bears worked five furlongs in 1:01. Gators N Bears has won two straight stakes, including the James B. Moseley Handicap at Suffolk Downs on June 19.

Whitney Day handle a record

The ontrack handle of $5,338,929 here Saturday set a record for a non-Travers Day card. The previous record for such a card was $5,243,185, established on Whitney Day 2002.

The record fell in spite of $232,824 being refunded ontrack in the first race when the favorite, Colonial Bay, was declared a nonstarter.

Total commingled handle reached $24,652,007, the second-highest non-Travers Day handle. Only the $25,533,940 wagered on Whitney Day 2002 was higher.

Business booming after two weeks

Ontrack handle has been up a whopping 19.1 percent through the first 12 days of the meet. A total of $41,130,814 has been wagered ontrack this year, compared to $34,509,596 last year.

Total handle is up 5.92 percent to $184,789,919, from $174,457,853 in 2003.

Attendance through the first 12 days of the meet is up 1.38 percent to 347,503, from 342,777 in 2003.

According to Bill Nader, senior vice president for the New York Racing Association, ontrack handle has been up all 12 days of the meet while total handle has been up on 10 of the 12 days. Average field size this meet is 8.8 horses, compared to 8.2 a year ago.

There have been 26 turf races run at this meet compared to 19 at this point in 2003.

"As far as the first two weeks of a Saratoga meet go, this is the best of all time," Nader said. "The quality of racing coupled with the size of the fields has helped. Success breeds success, and this is the most successful race meet in the country."

Pletcher and Velazquez near record paces

In other comparisons to last year's meet, trainer Todd Pletcher has 14 wins after the first 12 days. Last year, Pletcher had 15 winners en route to setting a single-meet record of 35. With 20 wins, John Velazquez has one more than he had last year when he won a meet-record 61 races.

Last year at this time, Jerry Bailey (24), Velazquez (19), and Edgar Prado (14) combined to win 57 of the first 113 races run. This year, that trio - Velazquez (20), Prado (15), and Bailey (13) - has combined to win 48 of the first 113 races.

Finally, favorites won at a 48 percent clip through the first 12 days of the 2003 meet. This year, with five favorites winning on Monday, the chalk is winning at a 38.9 percent clip (44-113).