06/18/2003 11:00PM

Simon says 'Honor' belongs


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Strength and Honor will carry the lowest weight in the Aristides Handicap at Churchill Downs, but that doesn't mean he's a lightweight. In fact, trainer Chuck Simon is confident Strength and Honor will run a career-best race Saturday and defeat an outstanding field that includes such proven sprinters as Beau's Town, Pass Rush, and Twilight Road.

"If he's going to run a 115 Beyer Speed Figure, like I think he could, why would I want to waste that on an allowance race?" asked Simon, the former longtime assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens.

Indeed, although still eligible for third-level allowances, Strength and Honor is deserving of major consideration when carrying 113 pounds in the $100,000 Aristides, a 6 1/2-furlong race that has Beau's Town as the 123-pound highweight and likely favorite in a field of seven. Bet down to 8-5 in his last race, the Aristides prep May 23, Strength and Honor showed an excellent turn of foot before being nailed on the wire by Twilight Road and jockey Pat Day.

While a repeat of that race would make either horse a serious threat Saturday, there are other new shooters that give the Aristides the quality and depth to justify its Grade 3 rating.

Beau's Town, a 5-year-old chestnut with a distinctive white blaze, has won 9 of 12 career starts and has been "training extremely well the last two weeks," said trainer Cole Norman.

Pass Rush, second on the Aristides weights list at 118 pounds, won the Grade 2 San Fernando at Santa Anita in January and figures to secure a good stalking position from his inside post.

Mountain General has won four stakes races from his last 10 starts. Slider, scratched from the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap a week ago, finished second to Medaglia d'Oro in the Oaklawn Handicap two starts back. And Trion Georgia "has been training like a top horse" since dead-heating for win in a May 3 allowance, said trainer Rob O'Connor.

The Aristides, named for the winner of the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, was inaugurated in 1989, when Bet the Pot prevailed for trainer Paul J. McGee. A victory by Twilight Road, who is 3 for 3 with Day riding, would give McGee a record fourth Aristides win.

Three allowances (races 2, 4, and 8) also are part of a solid 10-race Saturday card that begins at 1:15 p.m. Eastern.