11/24/2003 1:00AM

Saint Waki tries for three-peat

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - All of a sudden, Saint Waki knows how to win. After starting his career with 13 losses, the colt will be one of the favorites Wednesday to win for a third straight time.

With Pat Day scheduled to ride again, Saint Waki is one of nine 3-year-olds and up set to clash in the eighth-race feature, a $48,800 second-level allowance.

"He's a horse that's had a history of breathing problems," said trainer Pete Vestal. "He's had two throat surgeries - one late in his 2-year-old year and one earlier this year. Like a lot of throat surgeries, what happens is you improve the air intake from something like 60 percent to 80 percent. The condition is improved, but still not perfect.

"What we've learned about this horse is he has just one run, and because of his breathing limitations, you've got to time it right. With Pat being as patient as he is, my instructions have been to wait until you can't get there - then move on him. Obviously, in his last two starts, it's worked, because he's really finished with authority."

Partly because there is speed aplenty among his eight rivals, the pace scenario could once again favor Saint Waki, a Saint Ballado colt who will break from post 1 in the 6 1/2-furlong race. At least four have early speed that make them gate-to-wire threats: Draw Fire, Truman's Raider, Grand Victor, and Mauk Eight.

Of those, the unbeaten Grand Victor has the flashiest form. Trained by Pat Byrne, Grand Victor easily won his career debut in August at Ellis Park, then followed that with a gritty triumph in an entry-level allowance at Keeneland in October. Because he was favored in both of those races and earned excellent Beyer Speed Figures, it would be little surprise if Grand Victor was the favorite again Wednesday.

* In the only other allowance Wednesday (race 9), a large field of fillies and mares will race 1 1/16 miles on turf. Prof. McGonagall, with Day to ride, could be a slight favorite after being narrowly defeated at Keeneland under similar conditions.

* Wednesday is the last program of the 27-day fall meet that will begin at 12:40 p.m. Eastern. The meet's final three programs start at 11:30 a.m. Ten races will be run on Thursday, and 12 on Friday and Saturday.

* The finals in the fall-meet handicapping contest are set for Wednesday at nearby Trackside.