07/18/2002 11:00PM

Sneaky standout in Delaware Cap


PHOENIX - It's a chance that doesn't come along very often. So when someone does card a 1 1/4-mile race and also dangles $600,000 in purse money, solid distance horses are going to get involved.

On Sunday, Delaware Park offers up that rich purse for the 10 furlongs of the Grade 3 Delaware Handicap. The horse to beat is no doubt Summer Colony, a terrific 4-year-old filly who last summer at Saratoga graduated by 32 lengths and hasn't looked back since. She has won six of her subsequent eight starts, among them the Grade 3 Ladies Handicap (at 1 1/4 miles), the Grade 2 La Canada (giving star Azeri her only defeat so far), and Grade 3 Pimlico BC Distaff (where she earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 110).

She is coming off a solid runner-up effort in the Grade 2 Molly Pitcher, where she couldn't quite get to Atelier but finished well clear of Spain, the game's richest female. Carrying a meager 118 pounds she looks formidable.

Also in the race is Critical Eye, winner of the 2001 Grade 1 Hempstead (now the Ogden Phipps); Pompeii, winner of last year's Grade 1 Personal Ensign, at this same distance; and Starrer, second in the Grade 1 Spinster and winner of the Grade 2 Princess and Grade 2 Bayakoa. Starrer was the 4-5 favorite in last year's Grade 1 CCA Oaks, but she stumbled badly at the start, tossing jockey Chris McCarron. It was a wasted trip, though her trainer, John Shirreffs, sees a chance for redemption.

But maybe the most interesting entrant, at least from a wagering standpoint, is a horse who has yet to win a Grade 1, yet to win at this distance, and who hasn't won in over a year.

That filly, Two Item Limit, may be on the verge of a breakthrough. She has always had talent. She was dynamic at 2, easily the best filly in the East. Last year she competed with the best 3-year-old fillies, finishing second in the Grade 2 Comely (and placed first via disqualification), then winning the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan. Then things went south. She ran poorly in the Mother Goose, was no factor in the Delaware Oaks, then finished a nonthreatening third to Flute and Exogenous in the Alabama at this distance at Saratoga.

But in that Alabama run she showed some signs of life. She followed it up with a good second in the Grade 1 Gazelle at Belmont. That day she couldn't go with Exogenous, who came right back to beat elders in the Grade 1 Beldame, but out-nodded the talented Fleet Renee. She got a Beyer Figure of 104 that day, easily her best, and it set her up for her biggest day.

In the Breeders' Cup Distaff she was sent off at 32-1. She was pinched back at the start, and after giving the rest a head start she roared home to be a good third, beaten a half-length. It looked as though she was on her way.

Trainer Stephen DiMauro gave her plenty of time. She returned in the March 30 Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct and was never a factor, finishing sixth. When wheeled back in the Shuvee on May 18 at Belmont she was a dull fourth. What was wrong?

Maybe nothing. Two Item Limit was stuck inside for both those races, and she has rarely done her best work inside. Those races were also at seven furlongs and a mile - too short for her.

When she came back in the 1 1/16-mile Ogden Phipps on June 22, drawn outside, going longer, she ran on nicely to be third. While she was no match for the very good Raging Fever, it was as though the light came on.

Now DiMauro gets the distance he wants. She has drawn outside, and since the Phipps she has posted two strong drills - a bullet half-mile in 48 seconds breezing on the Belmont training track July 3, then a strong six furlongs in 1:13.80 breezing on the Belmont training track July 14.

Summer Colony figures to be a heavy favorite. Jerry Bailey's presence on Two Item Limit may keep your price from its full potential here, but it's still going to be in the 6-1 or 8-1 range, and you'll take that kind of price if Bailey's presence gets the job done. And as we've seen so many times, it often does.

Sun sets on Hollywood

The Sunset Handicap brings down the curtain on the Hollywood Park season. The 1 1/2-mile turf event may not have a star-studded cast, but still many of the best stayers in the West are ready to go.

And as with so many big turf races these days, Bobby Frankel seems to have the edge. He is sending out talented European import Lord Flasheart, who made a big splash this winter at Santa Anita when he stormed home to win a strong allowance race before disappointing as the chalk in a stakes. He then went to the bench, but in his comeback race rallied smartly to be second. He is diminutive in stature, but not in ability. He may now be ready to deliver on the promise he has shown.

It figures to be Frankel on whom the sun shines at the end of this 12 furlongs on turf.