09/06/2003 12:00AM

'Sovereign' captures Man o' War

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Lunar Sovereign's affinity for Belmont Park's turf course was not in doubt when he ran in Saturday's $500,000 . The question was his ability to compete with Grade 1 horses. Lunar Sovereign answered emphatically by winning the Grade 1 Man o' War by 2 3/4 lengths.

Under Richard Migliore, Lunar Sovereign swept by pacesetter Balto Star in upper stretch and was never threatened during the stretch run of the 1 3/8-mile grass race. Slew Valley finished second, a neck in front of the 7-5 favorite, Denon.

Balto Star, Deeliteful Irving, Macaw, Whitmore's Conn, and Carpanetto completed the order of finish.

Lunar Sovereign ($22) covered the distance over a yielding course in 2:17.99, the slowest running of the Man o' War since 1990.

Migliore said he felt confident from the start of the race.

"My horse was traveling like a winner every step of the way," said Migliore, who won the Man o' War in 1985 with Win.

Jerry Bailey, who rode Denon, wasn't receiving the same vibe from his mount.

"I knew at the three-eighths pole I didn't have a lot of horse," Bailey said. "I didn't have enough to go with the winner. I went trying to win, and it probably cost me second."

The Man o' War was the first Grade 1 win in this country for Lunar Sovereign's trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains the 4-year-old for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum's Darley Stable. Earlier in the week, McLaughlin announced he was leaving his position as private trainer for the Maktoum family to open a public stable. McLaughlin said he hopes to keep many of the horses he currently trains for the Maktoums.

Lunar Sovereign, a son of Cobra King, is undefeated in four grass starts at Belmont. In his last start, the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga, Lunar Sovereign finished eighth. Earlier in the summer, he finished a close-up third in the United Nations Handicap at Monmouth.

"I thought his last race was a throwout," McLaughlin said. "He ran today the way he ran in the United Nations."

McLaughlin said he was uncertain where Lunar Sovereign would run next.