06/29/2004 12:00AM

Savoy Special has shot if he handles gate

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ELMONT, N.Y. - To say that Savoy Special has some issues with the starting gate is an understatement.

Last year at Saratoga, Savoy Special acted so badly in the gate he ended up being scratched and needed 30 stitches to mend a frightful-looking gash on his leg. On May 16 at Belmont Park, in what was supposed to be Savoy Special's first race since finishing third in the Grade 3 Fall Highweight in November, he was a late scratch when he became fractious in the gate.

Following a much smoother start on June 13 in an allowance race, where he finished second, Savoy Special will run in Thursday's fifth race at Belmont.

, a 4-year-old, cuts back to seven furlongs - a better distance for him - after running in a mile race. Five older males were entered in Thursday's $49,000 allowance.

In Savoy Special's last start, seven-pound apprentice Rajiv Maragh rode him, and he is back aboard.

Trainer Todd Pletcher said Maragh got on well with Savoy Special, who was beaten 3 1/4 lengths.

"Johnny [Velazquez] had been riding him, and he didn't make the decision to take off; that was my choice," Pletcher said. "I figured with Johnny riding so many of my horses, until I was confident [Savoy Special] has gotten over his gate behavior, I would ride someone else. He was ridden well last time and [Maragh] had confidence in him."

Pletcher, who estimated that Savoy Special has visited the starting gate for schooling sessions "300 times" in the last two years, said he is very pleased that Savoy Special drew the outside post.

"That will help," Pletcher said. "The key is to limit his time in there, so he doesn't blow a fuse. Basically, he is claustrophobic. In the mornings, he stands there forever, but he won't in the afternoon. He knows the difference."

Overmatched in his last start in the Grade 2 True North Breeders' Cup, Buzzy's Gold is a better fit in this spot. won a second-level allowance at seven furlongs by 4 1/2 lengths on May 21.

Apprentice Fernando Jara, who recently has been on a hot streak, rides Buzzy's Gold for trainer Allen Jerkens.

For handicappers playing the turf-to-dirt angle, Personal Touch is coming off a good third in a turf race on June 5 at Belmont. Trained by Allen Iwinski, Personal Touch won a $60,000 claiming race on the dirt at Belmont in October at seven furlongs.

McKee's Gallery and Tonic Nights complete the field.