06/07/2003 12:00AM

With six days' rest, Mariensky wins again


ELMONT, N.Y. - The rain might have been an inconvenience for most of those who showed up at Belmont Park on Saturday, but for trainer Christophe Clement, it represented a glorious opportunity.

Clement decided to bring the 4-year-old filly Mariensky back in Saturday's $200,000 Just a Game Breeders' Cup Handicap only seven days after she won the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay Handicap. The turn-back in distance from 1 3/8 miles to a mile was rendered moot by the conditions, for Mariensky got the soft turf she covets for the second straight time.

Mariensky moved powerfully while four paths wide on the turn to enter contention, collared Riskaverse at midstretch, and inched away to win the Grade 3 Just a Game by two lengths. Riskaverse held on for second by a head from an unlucky Wonder Again, who was caught in traffic along the rail and did not get out until it was too late.

Mariensky, under Jose Santos, covered the mile on an extremely soft course in 1:43.28, with a final quarter-mile in 27 seconds. As the second choice, she paid $8.10 to win.

Clement had planned on running only Voodoo Dancer in the Just a Game. He joked that he decided to run Mariensky "when I saw my bank statement Monday." When Clement saw Saturday's weather forecast on Wednesday morning, when entries were taken, he told Santos's agent, Mike Sellitto, to enter Mariensky.

"He said Voodoo Dancer would run if it was firm, and Mariensky if it was soft," Sellitto said.

Voodoo Dancer prefers firm turf, so when the rain came, Clement scratched Voodoo Dancer and went with Mariensky.

"The ground is pretty soft, but it's safe. The bottom is good," said Santos, who had won his third race of the day. "She was right on top of the ground the whole way."

Wonder Again, the 5-2 favorite, got a ground-saving trip under Edgar Prado, but Prado could not find room early enough. "I didn't get out until the eighth pole," Prado said.

"He stayed inside, hoping something would open up," said Jimmy Toner, who trains Wonder Again. "He did the right thing. He just didn't get room. Once he got out, the others were gone. She ran huge."