09/19/2001 11:00PM

Squirtle Squirt & Co. in top form


ELMONT, N.Y. - Saratoga was a showcase for brilliance this summer, and one of those whose light shined brightest was Squirtle Squirt, dominant winner of the Grade 1 King's Bishop at seven furlongs.

Squirtle Squirt faces the biggest test of his career here at Belmont Park Saturday. The $300,000 Vosburgh, one of America's premier sprint stakes, drew a much stronger field than the King's Bishop. But if Squirtle Squirt can run back to his Saratoga form, it may not matter.

In fact, all of those connected with Squirtle Squirt are riding the crest of a mammoth wave. Trainer Bobby Frankel is enjoying a fantastic season and is second in the national standings for purses won. Jockey Jerry Bailey tops the riders standings for money won and may break his own record.

Squirtle Squirt is in accomplished hands.

"He's had a nice interval between races," Frankel said the other day. "His Saratoga start was four weeks ago, but he appears to have retained his edge. He breezed earlier this week and went five furlongs in 59 and change. "He inherits his speed from his sire. I trained Marquetry, who was a winner of more than $2 million. But Marquetry could carry his speed further. He'd get a mile and a quarter, where Squirtle Squirt prefers six or seven furlongs."

Like his trainer and jockey, owner David J. Lanzman is having a memorable season. Squirtle Squirt, whom Lanzman purchased for $25,000 at a Barretts 3-year-old sale, has earned almost $500,000, with many opportunities ahead, including the Breeders' Cup, if he confirms the class that may be needed Saturday. He will be facing horses like Peeping Tom, who won the Toboggan and

Carter handicaps; Say Florida Sandy, winner of more than $1.6 million; Left Bank, who was second to Squirtle Squirt in the King's Bishop; and others with credentials.

But Squirtle Squirt always seems to have a little something extra at hand to deal with important occasions. Working a furlong in advance of his sale, he shaded 11 seconds. Viewing the tapes, owner Lanzman noted the exercise rider lost a stirrup early and spent most of the time trying to recover. The bidding was desultory, but Lanzman, who is in real estate mortgages in California, took a chance.

Lanzman came into racing in 1994, but as a partner. He owned 25 percent of this and 50 percent of that while gaining some background. He started building his own stable in 1998 with purchases from conveniently located Barretts and was at the right place at the right time when Squirtle Squirt came along.

The Squirt won his first four starts, including the Hollywood Juvenile, for trainer Joe Garcia Jr. but a knee developed a problem that turned out to be a chip The surgeon who removed it noted it had bothered Squirt and predicted improvement now that it was gone.

Transferred to Frankel's care, Squirtle Squirt was given extra time to recover from surgery. He won his first start at 3, and ran well in subsequent sprint stakes, earning the confidence of his people. He was sent to Saratoga for the King's Bishop and hit the jackpot.

Lanzman now has nine horses in training and seven yearlings on a farm to ensure the stable's future. The future is something that many of us have had in mind lately, as Lanzman reflected.

"We flew to Saratoga to see the King's Bishop," he said "and watching him win was the thrill of a lifetime. We decided to spend a few days in New York before returning to California. We took a movie camera with us to make a record of the trip for the kids and we got some great scenes in New York, including footage of the twin towers at the World Trade Center."