08/06/2001 12:00AM

Strategic Mission not a lock


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Although he drops in class, returns to a turf course that has been kind to speed, and hails from high-powered connections, Strategic Mission is far from a sure thing in Wednesday's feature race at Saratoga.

Strategic Mission heads a field of seven entered in a classified allowance race at one mile over the inner turf course. Five additional horses have been entered for the main track only.

Strategic Mission has won just two of his last 11 starts and on five occasions has been a beaten favorite. In two allowance races here last summer - at odds of 4-5 and 2-1 - Strategic Mission finished second. Overall, he is 0 for 3 at Saratoga and 1 for 8 at a mile.

He is coming off a sixth-place finish in the Grade 2 Firecracker Breeders' Cup Handicap at Churchill Downs on July 4. That race was run over good ground, and Strategic Mission was part of a hot early pace.

Provided no more rain falls before Wednesday, the Saratoga turf course figures to be firm. Strategic Mission is a front-runner and the inner turf has played to that style of running. Through Sunday, nine of the 17 races run over the inner turf were won gate to wire, including eight of the last 10.

Two starts back, Strategic Mission went gate to wire to win the Grade 3 Fort Marcy Handicap over a firm Aqueduct turf. Strategic Mission, from the barn of leading trainer Bill Mott, will be ridden by Jerry Bailey from post 2.

Strategic Mission figures to encounter an early challenge from Cocktails and Lies, trained by Elliott Walden. A son of Saint Ballado, Cocktails and Lies is coming off a third-level allowance win at Churchill, in which he stalked a strong pace before splitting horses and drawing clear. He is 4 for 6 at a mile, including a victory over the highly regarded Del Mar Show in last year's Canterbury Derby.

An intriguing member - and perhaps the potential value - of this field is City West, an Argentine-bred son of Candy Stripes from the barn of Patrick Biancone. A Group 1 winner on turf and dirt in Argentina, City West finished third behind Irish Prize in the Grade 3 Fastness Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 13. City West set a dawdling pace that day, but Biancone insists his horse does not like to run on the front end.

Sejm's Madness, a two-time winner over this turf course, and Watchman's Warning, who won here at 17-1 on opening day, also figure into the equation.

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