07/03/2004 12:00AM

Stakes starting point for Binya

Spice Island, winning the Long Island, is part of a wide-open field in Monday's New York 'Cap.

ELMONT, N.Y. - The strength of the filly and mare turf division is on the West Coast or in Bobby Frankel's barn. With no California horses shipping east and with Frankel going deep into his stable for a runner, Monday's $250,000 New York Handicap looks like a wide-open event.

A field of eight was entered for the Grade 2 New York, a 1 1/4-mile race scheduled for Belmont Park's inner turf course.

looked like a star in the making during the winter in south Florida, winning an allowance race and the Grade 3 The Very One Handicap at Gulfstream Park. But in the Bewitch Stakes at Keeneland on April 21, Binya bled while finishing third behind Meridiana, who is also in this field.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin gave Binya 10 days to two weeks of doing nothing before putting her back in training. McLaughlin says he has no concern that Binya will be fit enough for the New York, a race McLaughlin says he hopes will lead to bigger and better things later in the year.

"She trains quite aggressively in the mornings," McLaughlin said. "If we should win or run real well, we're looking at the Beverly D. or Diana and then come back in the Flower Bowl here in the fall."

Binya drew the rail and could be the main speed under John Velazquez.

Spice Island and Meridiana seemingly had little excuse when they finished second and third behind front-running Moscow Burning in the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay Handicap on May 29.

Trainer Christophe Clement says he believes the soft ground may have compromised Meridiana. Clement would prefer firm turf and says he hopes the forecasted thunderstorms stay away Monday.

Jerry Bailey rode Spice Island for the first time in the Sheepshead Bay and said he thought Spice Island had a bit more turn of foot than she ultimately showed. Bailey said the experience should help him ride a different race Monday.

"I would let her do more, assuming it's a moderate pace," Bailey said. "She seems like a grinder more than having a punch."

Stay Forever has won nine of 15 starts for trainer Marty Wolfson, but is a confirmed closer who would benefit from a fast pace. Wonder Again is a multiple stakes winner on the Belmont turf and had a useful race in the Just a Game.

Humaita and Potra Fabulous both won 1 1/4-mile races here in their most recent outings. Alchemist was second to Potra Fabulous in that June 17 allowance race.