09/29/2001 12:00AM

Take a Gander at the Meadowlands Cup winner


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - In a race where strategy and pace were key, John Velazquez had the best plan and executed it perfectly to get perennial bridesmaid Gander a graded stakes victory in Friday night's $500,000 Grade 2 Meadowlands Cup.

The big gray New York-bred broke on top and allowed Velazquez to put on an riding exhibition, using wide runs on both turns and slow fractions to stave off the onrushing favorites Broken Vow and Include to win by a head in 1:47.11.

"He broke so well and once he got out there I knew he was going to let me do what I wanted to make the other guys have to work to get me," said Velasquez. "I studied the race beforehand and I told [trainer] John [Terranova] that I've got the one-hole, and I'd like to go to the lead and make them work hard. He agreed with me and it worked out."

Broken Vow stalked the lead through fractions of :23.11, :46.93 and 1:11.93 after being forced to the outside by Gander on the first turn. Include, the even-money favorite, tracked the top two, then joined them for a three-way stretch battle. All three had short leads before Gander ($10.20) made his last surge to garner his first victory since an allowance score at Belmont in May and first stakes win since the restricted Evan Shipman Handicap in July 2000.

"We've been up against all these big stakes horses and we've been able to come up with a big second or third," said Terranova, who conditions Gander for Gatsas Thoroughbreds. "We've never been able to get the big one. Tonight

was the night."

Broken Vow's trainer Graham Motion was disappointed, but pointed to the brilliant ride by Velasquez to keep the Breeders' Cup Classic as an option.

"Obviously we're disappointed," said Motion, "but I think my horse ran a courageous race. We'll have to talk it over, but I don't think we'll be able to make a decision about the Classic tonight."

Include was only a neck behind Broken Vow in third at the wire while making his first start in three months.

"He ran alongside those horses, and I thought he was going to go by them," said Include's jockey Jerry Bailey. "A horse as good as he is should go by them, but he didn't do that."

It was one of two stakes wins for Velasquez on the night. Despite being boxed in, he rallied longshot Eltawaasul ($67.60) to catch favored Spindrift and Bailey in the $75,000 Manilla Stakes for trainer Patrick Reynolds and owner Christopher G. Connors.

*Clearly a Queen ($48.60) posted an upset victory under Jorge Chavez in the $150,000 Grade III Violet Handicap by a head over a late-closing Queue. It was her first start since undergoing surgery on an entrapped epiglottis for trainer Bobby Barnett and owner John Franks.

*Bailey and Bill Mott teamed to salvage a victory with People's

Princess ($6) in the $75,000 Long Look Stakes. She held off Strolling Belle by a neck, who was later disqualified from second to fourth because jockey Eibar Coa struck rival Poivre in the face with his whip in the stretch.