06/06/2001 11:00PM

She'll run where the boys are


ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Joe Orseno said if champion Perfect Sting beats males when she meets them for the first time in Saturday's $400,000 Manhattan Handicap on the Belmont Stakes undercard, "the boys will be in trouble the rest of the year."

With those fighting words, Orseno turned down a much easier assignment for Perfect Sting: the $175,000-added Just a Game Breeders' Cup, also on Saturday's card, a race she won last year against her own sex.

"We don't want to hurt her record by running with the boys," Orseno said, "but the weights were a factor in the decision this time."

Perfect Sting, a winner of six of her last seven, including the Black Helen in her last start, would have packed 124 pounds in the one-mile Just a Game. In the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan on the inner turf, she carries 115, five fewer than highweight King Cugat, who could be a slight favorite.

In addition to multiple stakes winner King Cugat, Perfect Sting also faces Belmont turf specialist Forbidden Apple, Explosive Bid winner Tijiyr, and European invader Sumitas in the Grade 1 Manhattan.

Chris McCarron rides Perfect Sting for the first time since Jerry Bailey, aboard for all her starts last year, is committed to King Cugat.

Orseno said it isn't necessary to provide McCarron with detailed instructions. "She's not really difficult to ride. She'll settle and make that big run."

Perfect Sting drew post 2.

Bill Mott, King Cugat's trainer, doesn't want his colt to lag far back early, so he has put blinkers on for the Manhattan. This year, King Cugat made late runs that earned him a third in the Explosive Bid and a second in the Woodford Reserve, both narrow losses.

"They were credible races, not his best," said Mott, who has won the Manhattan three times. "He's been falling out of the back door more than I like. It would be good if he could stay closer, but he seems a little reluctant doing it on his own."

Bailey, also a three-time Manhattan winner, rides King Cugat from post 3.

Forbidden Apple, a 6-year-old, is 5 for 8 over the Belmont grass, including wins in last year's Belmont Park Breeders' Cup and Kelso, a pair of Grade 2's. Trained by Chris Clement, Forbidden Apple hasn't run since finishing fourth behind top European runner Fantastic Light in the Hong Kong Cup in December, his only start at 1 1/4 miles.

"Older horses seem to run well [off layoffs]," Clement said, "and his race in Hong Kong was very strong."

Corey Nakatani, subbing for the injured Jose Santos, rides Forbidden Apple.

Trainer Richard Schosberg hopes longshot Understood proves himself worthy of earning a berth to the Breeders' Cup Turf this fall. A 5-year-old, he steps up in class after finishing a close second in a third-level allowance at one mile in April.

"The first race off the layoff was super," Schosberg said. "The mile was a quarter short of his best distance; he was making up a lot of ground late."