11/18/2004 1:00AM

Senor Ladd running for votes in John Kirby


EAST BOSTON, Mass. - Senor Ladd can stake a claim as the best horse based in New England in Saturday's $40,000 John Kirby Stakes for 3-year-old Massachusetts-breds.

Like the Smarty Jones vs. Ghostzapper debate, the race for New England horse of the year is between a 3-year-old and an older horse who have never met on the track.

Senor Ladd's rival for local honors is Milky Way Guy, a winner of 7 of 13 starts this year, including a stakes. Senor Ladd won the major 3-year-old stakes here this summer, while Milky Way Guy won twice on the turf. Milky Way Guy probably has the inside track to the title, but a big win by Senor Ladd on Saturday could narrow the gap.

On paper, Senor Ladd appears superior to his eight rivals in the mile and 70-yard Kirby. Even his sixth-place finish in the Sonny Hine Stakes at Pimlico last month produced a Beyer Speed Figure that is higher than anything any of his competitors have run this year. Before that, he won the Topsider Stakes against open company. It also was against older horses and was his second open stakes win in a row.

Senor Ladd also won the Rudy Baez against 3-year-olds in July. In March, he finished second to Abbondanza, who went on to set the pace in the Breeders' Cup Sprint before fading to 11th.

Competition for Senor Ladd should come from Episode on Tour, who finished third to Senor Ladd in the African Prince Stakes in June and has won only once in nine starts since then. Episode on Tour is stretching out to two turns for only the second time in his career. He set the pace and faded to fourth in a one-mile allowance race last out.

The filly Ask Queenie demolished the field in the Louise Kimball Stakes two weeks ago. She was third against the boys in the Norman Hall Stakes last year as a 2-year-old behind Strongestsoverign and Senor Ladd.

Milky Way Guy didn't help his own cause when he stopped badly in the mud in an allowance race on Tuesday, but, like Ghostzapper, he will probably win the award - especially if Senor Ladd is anything but impressive Saturday.

* The promotions from last Saturday's canceled card at Suffolk Downs, including a chance to win a trip to Las Vegas, have been moved to this Saturday. Fans can sign up at the customer service center. In addition to the Vegas trip, five $100 vouchers will be given away.

* The Amelia Peabody Stakes for 2-year-old Massachusetts-bred fillies was moved from last Saturday to Wednesday's card. Branded in Gold won the race, her second straight victory, defeating Strawberry Patch.