05/16/2005 12:00AM

Shuvee or Pimlico Distaff?

Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
Ashado could stay in Belmont for Saturday's Shuvee, but trainer Todd Pletcher also entered her in Friday's Pimlico Distaff BC Handicap.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Todd Pletcher has a decision to make in the coming days regarding his champion filly Ashado, and what he decides will affect the complexion of graded stakes to be run this week at Belmont Park and Pimlico.

Pletcher entered Ashado and two others for Friday's $150,000 Pimlico Distaff Breeders' Cup Handicap, but he also has Ashado nominated to Saturday's $200,000 Shuvee Handicap at Belmont, where Ashado is already a Grade 1 winner. Several of the nine entrants in the Grade 3 Pimlico Distaff are also nominated to the Grade 2 Shuvee and may opt to run where Ashado, the defending 3-year-old filly champion, does not.

Before the weights were released for both races, and before Ashado put in another terrific workout at Belmont on Monday, Pletcher appeared to be leaning toward running at Pimlico. On Monday, Pletcher said it was "50-50."

Pletcher scratched Ashado from the Louisville Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs on May 6, partly because he was unhappy with the 123-pound weight assignment and partly because of a sub-par workout five days before the race. Ashado was assigned 123 for the Pimlico Distaff and 122 for the Shuvee. With multiple Grade 1 winner Society Selection and multiple graded winner Daydreaming confirmed for the Shuvee, it is a more difficult spot.

"I don't necessarily agree picking up two pounds off a loss," Pletcher said from Belmont, noting that Ashado carried 121 pounds when fifth in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom, "but I would say the weights are comparable between the Shuvee and [Pimlico] given the quality of competition. It's a no-brainer as to which is the tougher race. If Ashado runs here, you got three of the top older mares in the country."

For the second straight week, Ashado put in a strong workout over Belmont's main track. Working in company with the 3-year-old Spun Sugar - who is running in the Black-Eyed Susan - Ashado worked four furlongs in 47.48 seconds Monday. On May 10, Ashado worked five furlongs in a bullet 59.04.

"She's worked sensationally here," Pletcher said. "I don't know why she didn't work as well at Churchill as I expected her to."

Pletcher said that if Ashado runs Friday in Maryland, he would scratch his other two entrants, Essence and Colony Band, from that race and most likely would run Colony Band in the Shuvee. Colony Band is coming off a 3 1/4-length score in the Doubledogdare. Colony Band could run in Maryland if Ashado stays home.

Saintliness, Traci Girl, and Family Business were all entered in the Pimlico Distaff, but are all nominated to the Shuvee.

Clement ponders Manhattan

Christophe Clement received strong performances from Saint Stephen and Relaxed Gesture over the weekend, possibly giving Clement two contenders for the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap, to be run Belmont Day.

On Friday, Saint Stephen won his third consecutive race, taking a fourth-level allowance race by 1 1/4 lengths and barely missing an inner turf course record. By running 1 1/8 miles in 1:45.94, Saint Stephen earned a career-best 102 Beyer Speed Figure.

"He's always trained well; he was a bit disappointing," Clement said. "We did throat surgery this winter, which seems to have improved him. It was a nice race. Let's see if he can move up from there."

Twenty-four hours later, Relaxed Gesture won a second-level allowance race, running 1 1/4 miles in 2:00.93 after hitting his head against the starting gate at the break. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 95.

"Everybody tells me he forced [the gates open], and I watched the replay three or four times and I'm not sure he forced it or it opened at the same time," Clement said. "The only thing I know for sure is he banged his head. After 10 yards he was last, so obviously it messed him up a little bit, so we'll have to get him a little more settled in the gate."

Clement said he wanted to get a line on the Manhattan field before committing either or both to the race.

"Is the Manhattan possible? Yes, it's a possibility," Clement said. "Am I sure I'm going to run in there? No."

Blue Sunday likely for Mike Lee

Galloping Grocer isn't the only talented 3-year-old New York-bred son of A. P Jet on the grounds.

Blue Sunday was most impressive last Friday, winning a second-level statebred allowance race by eight lengths. Not only was Blue Sunday skipping an allowance condition, he drew away after dueling head and head through rapid early fractions of 21.84 and 45.87. Blue Sunday ran six furlongs in 1:09.76 and earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 104.

"It was a very impressive race," said Tom Albertrani, who trains Blue Sunday for Darley Stable. "After the first quarter I was a little concerned, but I could see Jerry [Bailey] had him well in hand. At the top of the lane he started drawing away, and obviously he was much the best."

Blue Sunday will most likely make his next start in the $100,000 Mike Lee Handicap here June 26. The Mike Lee is the first leg of the Big Apple Triple, a series of New York-bred races that includes the New York Derby at Finger Lakes and the Albany at Saratoga.

Blue Sunday won his maiden at Saratoga by 15 lengths last summer at Saratoga but was then sidelined by an ankle chip, which required surgery. In his first start back, he was beaten a head by Be Wild Again, another talented New York-bred. Those two finished 9 1/2 lengths ahead of the rest of the field.

Albertrani, who has already won more races (12) this year than he did in all of 2004, has another talented 3-year-old, Oratory, who is being pointed to the Peter Pan Stakes on May 28. Oratory, a son of Pulpit, has 2 wins and 2 seconds from 4 starts.

"He's another talented horse that we hope improves with a little more experience," said Albertrani, who said he is looking to expand his 17-horse stable. "He is getting better every race."