08/14/2001 11:00PM

So far, Juggernaut has been a huge overachiever

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - The connections of Juggernaut figured that he would turn out to be an allowance-quality or high-claiming horse. It would be fair to say, then, that the 2-year-old Juggernaut has far exceeded expectations by making it to the field for Saturday's Grade 3 Sapling at Monmouth Park.

Juggernaut, based at Calder, started his career modestly in a $32,000 maiden claiming race at his home track. At the time, trainer Larry Pilotti wasn't overly impressed with the colt, who had some shin problems, so he decided to see what he could do in a lesser maiden race.

"He had been working okay," said Pilotti. "He seemed like a fair horse, so we took a little shot to see if he could pick up a check and win at that level."

Juggernaut was beaten a neck in the race, but he performed well enough to convince his connections to put him into a maiden special weight. He won his maiden by three lengths, and then returned at 10-1 to score a last-to-first victory in the $100,000 Criterium Stakes over another Sapling starter, Pure Precision. Juggernaut had been on the lead in his first two starts, but in the Criterium he was taken far back off a decent pace. At the eighth pole, he was four lengths back in fourth. He won the race by two lengths over Pure Precision, who was 3-5 in the race.

"He caught a nice track that day," said Pilotti, who has been a trainer since 1995. "The track was playing to closers and he was flying down the lane."

Juggernaut was bred by Bill Killeen, who is also a part owner with Siobahn Ellison, at A New View Farm in Kentucky. Killeen, who has been involved in the business since 1975, bred juggernaut's mother, Mito's Touch, who was stakes-placed and won 13 races and over $180,000 in her career. Yet two years ago as a broodmare, Mito's Touch had difficulty getting in foal. Killeen sent her to Gary Cook at the Kentucky farm, and she had Juggernaut without any difficulty.

"You never know what you're going to get in breeding," said Killeen. "He is bred to be a sprinter, so if he can go a distance that would be fine. But if not, he'll be a good sprinter."

Going into the Sapling, Pilotti admitted Juggernaut isn't 100 percent. He said the colt kicked the wall in his stall and was forced to miss a workout two weeks ago. The horse shipped here Tuesday afternoon, and was up to his playful games Wednesday morning. He was kicking in his stall, but Pilotti said he is just ready for a start after being out six weeks since his Criterium victory. Juggernaut will gallop around the track leading up to the race, and may blow out over the track Friday morning.

The Sapling is likely to draw a field of 10, and without a clear standout, the race will be a fitting stage for one colt to step up and win. Juggernaut, despite modest bloodlines and a modest career debut, has the talent to be much more than average.

"We have had a lot of opportunities to sell him," Killeen said. "I always breed them to race, and we're not interested in the selling end. We're happy to take our time and have a good horse."

Just Le Facts will skip Sapling

Dennis Manning, trainer of impressive 2-year-old maiden winner Just Le Facts, said the colt would sit out of the Sapling and wait for an allowance race at the end of the meet. Just Le Facts, sent off at 7-1, ran five furlongs in

58.39 seconds on Aug. 2, earning an 86 Beyer Speed Figure. Manning, who trains Just Le Facts for Mac Fehsenfeld, said that 16 days would be too short of a time to bring the colt back.

The Sapling is expected to have 10 starters, including the top four finishers in the Tyro Stakes - Pure Precision, Doc Wild, Outstander and Lil Badger - plus Juggernaut, Wild Navigator, Capture the Silver, Thunder Days, Truman's Raider and Vinemeister. Wild Navigator and Capture the Silver, both trained by John Mazza, will run as an entry.

* Friday's feature, run as the eighth race on a nine-race card, is a $41,000 optional claiming allowance at one mile for 3-year-olds and up. The field of eight is led by the Ben Perkins Jr.-trained entry of Energized and Alex's Turn. The two will break side-by-side out of the fifth and sixth posts, ridden by Roberto Alvarado and Tommy Turner, respectively.

* First Lieutenant, a two-time allowance winner this meet, put in a solid workout of 1:00.80 for five furlongs over a fast track Wednesday morning. First Lieutenant, a 4-year-old trained by Phil Oliver, recorded the last quarter in 23.60. Oliver said the horse is more likely to go next in the

Grade 2 Iselin Handicap here Aug. 26, rather than ship to Saratoga for Sunday's Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap.