05/16/2002 12:00AM

Snow Ridge appears far from unbeatable


BALTIMORE - There are several reasons to take a stand against probable favorite Snow Ridge in Saturday's $200,000, Grade 3 Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap, one of seven stakes on the Preakness undercard.

First, Snow Ridge is coming back just two weeks after running a demanding race in the Churchill Downs Handicap, finishing first but disqualified to second when jockey Mike Smith inadvertently hit D'wildcat in the face with his whip one step from the wire.

Second, Snow Ridge seems to do his best running on a firm surface, which he may not get in Saturday's six-furlong race. Third, the last time Snow Ridge ran against Rusty Spur, he was dueled into defeat in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct. Rusty Spur is back in on Saturday.

The Churchill Downs Handicap "didn't seem to affect him; he was running off with the [exercise rider] this morning," trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Thursday. "I'd like to not have that pressure up front, but you put up $200,000 and you're going to get good horses."

One horse who has gotten very good lately is He's a Knockout, a towering gray locomotive who has won three in a row and five of his last seven starts.

A 4-year-old son of Two Punch, He's a Knockout won both of his starts at Gulfstream Park this spring, defeating 2001 Kentucky Derby runner-up Invisible Ink in a fourth-level allowance race before taking the Artax Handicap over Fappie's Notebook.

Trainer Graham Motion credited owner Bob Levy and his partners with their patient handling of He's a Knockout.

"They gave him the winter off," Motion said. "He didn't need the winter off, he had nothing wrong with him, but now I have a fresh horse. His races at Gulfstream were very impressive, particularly the first one. His second one, he might even have regressed a little bit. He's going to have an acid test with Lukas's horse in there, but it's the right time to find out."

Peeping Tom has yet to return to the form he showed last spring when he won the Grade 1 Carter Handicap, but he could be helped by an expected hot early pace in the Maryland Breeders' Cup.