10/05/2004 12:00AM

Skeptics say 'Park Avenue' too slow

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Park Avenue Ball needs to run faster in Saturday's Champagne than he did in the Futurity.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Park Avenue Ball won the Futurity at Belmont Park last month at odds of 10-1. To hear people talk, he may be twice the price in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Champagne at Belmont Park.

In addition to facing a tougher field that includes the unbeaten Afleet Alex, Park Avenue Ball must prove he is faster than his last race suggests. Though he won the Futurity by three lengths, Park Avenue Ball ran one mile in a pokey 1:38.84. That was the slowest by one second of 10 runnings of the Futurity at the distance. And it was slower than Sense of Style ran the same distance [1:37.67] winning the Matron for 2-year-old fillies on the same card.

Javier Castellano rode Park Avenue Ball for the first time in the Futurity, but will be aboard Sun King in the Champagne. Nick Zito trains Sun King, who won a maiden race on Sept. 17, covering one mile in 1:37.66. Zito is one of Castellano's staunchest supporters, and has also won four of the last six runnings of the Champagne.

Jim Ryerson, the trainer of Park Avenue Ball, has named Joe Bravo to ride his horse on Saturday.

"He ran good, but he didn't run fast, but I thought he won fairly easily," Ryerson said of Park Avenue Ball's Futurity. "I was a little surprised the rider took off, but Nick has a lot of horses. I don't know if it's as much that or if it was the horse's race; maybe a little bit of both."

Park Avenue Ball will have as much, if not more, experience as any of the seven expected runners in the 1 1/16-mile Champagne. He is 3 for 4 with two stakes wins. Ryerson knows how important experience can be in this race. Nine years ago, Ryerson saddled Unbridled's Song in the Champagne off a maiden win at Saratoga. Unbridled's Song missed the Futurity due to illness and was too fresh in the Champagne. He ran off to a six-length lead after four furlongs in 45.20 seconds and faded to fourth behind Maria's Mon, who had won the Futurity.

Unbridled's Song came back to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in his next start. While Ryerson said he could make a case for running Park Avenue Ball in the Breeders' Cup regardless of what happens Saturday, he wants to see how he fares in the Champagne.

Ryerson said if Park Avenue Ball wins the Champagne "you're going to run faster and you're going to beat more accomplished horses and the Breeders' Cup is going to look more attractive."

The probable field for the Champagne includes Afleet Alex, All Trumps, One Fein Dad, Park Avenue Ball, Proud Accolade, Silver Train, and Sun King. Wallstreet Scandal and We Love Rocky are possible.

With 'Style' away, 'Fire' may play

Trainer Mark Hennig certainly did not shed a tear when his colleague, Patrick Biancone, shipped Sense of Style to Kentucky for Friday's Alcibiades Stakes. Sense of Style defeated the Hennig-trained Play With Fire in both the Spinaway and Matron.

Play With Fire will be one of an expected field of seven here in the Grade 1, $500,000 Frizette, which will lack a clear favorite. Play With Fire, a daughter of Boundary, overcame a slow start to win a five-furlong maiden race at Saratoga. She was no match for Sense of Style in the Spinaway, but was only beaten 1 3/4 lengths by that rival in the Matron.

"The last time I thought she was a victim of taking first run at Sense of Style and trying to beat her," Hennig said. "And that probably cost her a placing at the wire."

Balletto, another Frizette hopeful, rallied past Play With Fire to get second.

Hennig said if Play With Fire puts forth a similar performance in the Frizette, she would earn a trip to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Others pointing to the Frizette, run at 1 1/16 miles, are Comacina, Hanging Chads, J P Jewel, Ready's Gal, and Sis City.

Nevermore back for more in Beldame

Trainer James Bond believed his best shot to win a Grade 1 race with Nevermore this year was in last month's Grade 1 Personal Ensign Handicap at Saratoga because the race was run at 1 1/4 miles around two turns.

Nevermore ran gallantly, but still fell 1 3/4 lengths short behind Storm Flag Flying and Azeri.

Saturday, Bond will send Nevermore out against Sightseek, Storm Flag Flying, and Society Selection in the Grade 1, $750,000 Beldame knowing the conditions of the race - nine furlongs around one turn - suit those multiple-Grade 1-winning fillies better.

"I definitely got an uphill battle, but this filly is at the top of her game today," Bond said Tuesday from Saratoga. "I wish it was a mile and a quarter but I can't do anything about it. I'm very excited the way she's training. . . . Physically, this filly's never been 100 percent; she's 100 percent now. I think she's going to run one of her biggest races. Is that good enough? I'll let you know Saturday night."

Bond has summoned the California-based rider Victor Espinoza to ride Nevermore.

Board Elligible and Pocus Hocus are also under consideration for the Beldame.

Tuesday, Society Selection worked seven furlongs in 1:25.09 over Belmont's main track.

Stroll yes, 'Swinger' no for Kelso

Stroll will not get a chance to avenge his loss to Senor Swinger in last month's Belmont Breeders' Cup in Saturday's Grade 3, $350,000 Kelso. But, Stroll will get the opportunity to convince his connections that he belongs in a race such as the Breeders' Cup Mile on Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park.

Stroll was sent off the 3-5 favorite in the Belmont Breeders' Cup, but offered no resistance when Senor Swinger ran by him in the stretch to win by four lengths. Senor Swinger, however, had mucus in his lungs following a recent endoscopic examination and will miss the Kelso.

Though Stroll entered the Belmont BC off a three-month layoff, trainer Bill Mott did not view that as a plausible excuse. "The only thing I can do is hope he improves," Mott said. "I think he'll be better.''

Stroll will be one of three starting highweights at 119 pounds, along with Millennium Dragon and Mr. O'Brien. The only other definite starters as of Tuesday were Christine's Outlaw and Willard Straight. Proud Man, French Lieutenant, and Herculated were considered possible.

Tuesday, Proud Man worked five furlongs in 1:00.98 over Belmont's main track. Trainer Christophe Clement said he would wait until Thursday before making a decision.

Artie Schiller, the 3-year-old who won the Jamaica Handicap here on Sept. 26, will not be wheeled back in the Kelso. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens said no decision has been made whether he will contest the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Wonder Again confirmed for Filly and Mare Turf

Wonder Again, who finished sixth as the favorite in last Saturday's Flower Bowl Invitational, will run in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, trainer Jimmy Toner confirmed on Tuesday.

"We feel like we don't want to go out on that note," said Toner, referring to a 1 3/4-length loss in the Flower Bowl. "She deserves another chance.''

Because Wonder Again has been a poor shipper in the past, Toner said he would send the filly to Texas next week to get her acclimated to Lone Star.

Toner said that Wonder Again can be a bit unfocused especially when she's out in the clear as was the case in the Flower Bowl.

"You have to stick her in there and get her covered up," Toner said. "If you don't it's too easy for her."

Wonder Again has won the New York Handicap and Diana this year, so a win in the Breeders' Cup could earn her an Eclipse Award.