08/31/2006 12:00AM

Silver Tree looms over Tri-State

Silver Tree, winning the 2004 Bernard Baruch at Saratoga under Jerry Bailey, is using the Tri-State as a prep.

If a trainer had looked forward the entire Ellis Park meet to running his turf specialist in the Tri-State Handicap, he had to be disappointed when entries came out for the $50,000 race.

Oh, the race went - it's the 10th of 11 on the Saturday card at the Henderson, Ky., track. Problem is, one of the nine entrants is named Silver Tree, which greatly diminishes the chances of any of the other eight to win.

Silver Tree, a multiple graded winner of more than $1.1 million, is using the Tri-State as a springboard to more important fall engagements, and he figures to be a massive favorite in the 1 1/16-mile turf race. Trained by Bill Mott for breeder-owner Peter Vegso, Silver Tree has been coupled with Brickell, but assistant trainer Kenny McCarthy said Thursday that Mott has instructed him to scratch Brickell, barring an unforeseen occurrence.

Silver Tree, 6, last raced against the likes of English Channel, Cacique, and Gorella when he checked in ninth, beaten 6 1/4 lengths, in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the May 6 Kentucky Derby undercard at Churchill Downs. After the Woodford, "we went over him pretty closely and couldn't find an obvious excuse," said McCarthy. "So we just backed off on him, hand-walked him around the shed row a few weeks, then brought him back with some easy jogs.

"Bill said the horse had been in steady training for a long time, and the time off would probably do him good. This race at Ellis came up, and Bill thought it'd be a good place to start back."

Silver Tree, with Larry Melancon to ride, will carry high weight of 123 pounds, spotting his opponents as much as 12 pounds. Assuming Brickell scratches, Silver Tree's most dangerous rival figures to be Mesawmi, a Pat Byrne-trained 4-year-old with four wins from 10 career starts. If Mesawmi finishes second behind Silver Tree, the $2 exacta payoff surely will be in the single digits.

The balance of the Tri-State lineup is Gallo Del Bar, American Man, British Blue, Major Focus, Gretchen's Star, and Mighty Military.

The Tri-State, which dates to 1975, is the last of the listed stakes at Ellis this summer. The 36-day meet winds to a quiet close this weekend, with the $26,000 Vodika Collins serving as the Sunday feature and the $26,000 Weekend Madness highlighting Monday's closing-day card. Live action on the Kentucky circuit shifts Wednesday night to Turfway Park in Florence.