05/20/2001 11:00PM

Sky's the limit for pair of 3-year-olds


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Two-thirds of the Triple Crown is finished, but the season is just getting started for lightly-raced 3-year-olds Bayou the Moon and Until Sundown. They race 1 1/8 miles Wednesday in the $75,000 Alydar Stakes at Hollywood Park, with no limit to their potential.

Despite their relative inexperience (three starts each), Bayou the Moon and Until Sundown will be favored over Snow Chief winner Romanceishope, who has won 3 of 5 and $227,280; California Derby winner Takin It Deep, 3 for 7 with earnings of $164,362; and front-runner Bargello. The Alydar is race 7 on an outstanding card, and will help determine the summer campaign of all five starters.

"This will be another step up, another test for him," Bayou the Moon's trainer, Richard Mandella, said. "In the summer, you've got the Haskell and Travers - million-dollar races. I want to see if he's good enough."

So far, so good. Bayou the Moon, by Dixieland Band, came down with sore-shins after his midpack debut last August. He returned seven months later with a clever turf sprint win, and followed April 21 by beating older in a first-condition, main-track route. Ridden by Alex Solis in both wins, Bayou the Moon has trained sensationally since, and is likely to exceed his last-start Beyer Speed Figure of 94. He will have to, in order to beat Until Sundown.

A 16-1 oversight when he made his debut against Crafty C.T. on Feb. 3 at Santa Anita, Until Sundown outran his odds and finished second, more than six lengths clear of third place. One month later, trainer Laura De Seroux sent the colt around two turns and he responded with a four-length maiden win. Until Sundown, by Smart Strike, returned April 11 to beat a modest field of 3-year-olds by two lengths, earning a 96 Beyer.

It has been a deliberate campaign, by design. Gary Stevens has ridden Until Sundown in all three starts, and has come away impressed. "I think he's a pretty talented little horse. The great thing with Laura and [assistant trainer Alex Hassinger] is they're very patient. They're looking at a serious summer and fall campaign and this is part of that."

All five Alydar entrants are qualified to win. The Snow Chief victory by Romanceishope was his his third straight, and while speed figure handicappers might scoff at his 91 Beyer, the gelding enters with a conspicuous pattern of improvement.

Takin It Deep is gaining a reputation as a one-run closer, and will start as the longsest shot in the field. Conversely, front-runner Bargello is a threat to steal it. In the April 21 race won by Bayou the Moon, Bargello finished second after being pushed through tough early fractions (46.48, 1:10.65). That was the colt's first try around two turns. Wednesday, he could lead gate to wire.

In race 4, Mandella unveils another promising South American. Cagney won 3 of 4 in Brazil, including a Group 1, and has been working super. "He was working okay on dirt, but he was a different horse when we put him on turf. I think he's got the makings of a very good horse," Mandella said.

Cagney is one of several contenders in a mile turf race, a three-other-than allowance. El Gran Papa comes off a close second at the same level, while French import Special Ring makes his U.S. debut for trainer Julio Canani.