10/14/2003 11:00PM

Taking another shot at Gander


ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer John DeStefano Jr. was thrilled as Compelling World crossed the finish line in second place in last year's Empire Classic. Then DeStefano watched the head-on video replay, which showed Compelling World taking a hard bump at the start, and realized his horse might have won the race with a clean break.

"Shaun Bridgmohan told us after the race how hard he was bumped and to watch the head-on," DeStefano said. "We got killed out of the gate and lost three to four lengths. We would have been laying four of five lengths closer. It was just a disaster, but he still ran well."

In Saturday's Empire Classic at Belmont Park, Compelling World will meet, among others, Gander, who defeated him by a half-length in last year's Empire Classic.

The 1 1/8-mile Empire Classic is one of seven stakes for New York-breds on New York Showcase Day.

The 5-year-old Compelling World is looking for his first win since the Kings Point Handicap at Aqueduct in April 2002.

"There's been a lot of seconds and thirds," DeStefano said. "What he needs is [quick] fractions up front - a good pace to run into so he can close."

Bridgmohan will ride Compelling World, who worked six furlongs in a bullet 1:12.66 last Saturday.

Expected to join Compelling World and Gander in the Empire Classic are Private Emblem, Traffic Chief, Acceptable Venture, and Spite the Devil. Mr. Determined and Lord ofthe Thunder are possible.

Wednesday, Spite the Devil worked seven furlongs in 1:31.06 over Belmont's training track, which was labeled good.

Two solid threats from Asmussen

Trainer Steve Asmussen, who has won five graded stakes in New York this year, will send out two contenders on New York Showcase Day with Private Emblem in the $250,000 Empire Classic and Mischieviously in the $125,000 Iroquois Handicap for fillies and mares.

Private Emblem, who won the 2002 Arkansas Derby, won the Albany Handicap at Saratoga in August 2002, the last time he faced New York breds on dirt. He has made his last three starts on turf, including a third-place finish in the West Point Handicap at Saratoga and a fifth-place finish in the Ashley T. Cole at Belmont in September. Asmussen ran him in those races more because of the New York-bred company than the surface.

"I think he was weighted eight pounds heavier on the dirt than he was on the turf," Asmussen said. "We took a shot. He ran credibly, but the Empire Classic has always been his goal this year."

Wednesday, Private Emblem worked four furlongs in 49.07 seconds over the training track.

Mischieviously, a 3-year-old, will take on her elders in the seven-furlong Iroquois. She has won sprinting against older New York-breds in her last two starts and overall is 3 for 5 in restricted company.

The Iroquois field is also expected to include Beautiful America, Grab Bag, Travelator, Sparkling Ava, Storm on the Lake, and Doc's Doll.

Shawklit Mint returns in Iroquois

The horse Mischieviously will have to beat in the Iroquois is Shawklit Mint, who makes her return to the races following a two-month freshening.

Shawklit Mint, a 4-year-old daughter of Air Forbes Won, has not faced New York-breds since winning the Broadway in March. That win came in the midst of a four-race winning streak that included an upset of graded winners Shine Again and Gold Mover in the Grade 2 Vagrancy Handicap. After that, Shawklit Mint finished seventh in the Princess Rooney at Calder in July and last in the Grade 3 Honorable Miss at Saratoga on Aug. 1.

"The Calder race took a little something out of her," trainer Pat Reynolds said. "It wasn't that evident. If it was evident, we wouldn't have run her back. We figured the slop at Saratoga would put her over the top, but she was just empty. We're looking forward to running Saturday."

Wednesday, Shawklit Mint worked three furlongs in 37.03 seconds over the training track.

Beautiful America back on favorite surface

After making a big splash last year as a 2-year-old with 4 wins from 6 starts, which earned her a New York-bred championship, Iroquois contender Beautiful America is 1 for 6 this year. Her lone win came in the Statue of Liberty Stakes here on June 8.

Beautiful America, who won last year's Maid of the Mist Stakes on New York Showcase Day, is undefeated in three starts over Belmont's main track and her trainer, Mike Hernandez, is looking forward to running her on her preferred surface.

"She does run better here than any other place," Hernandez said. "I hope she can do a little running again. It would be nice to get her back in her [old] form."

* Among the juveniles pointing to Saturday's $100,000 Sleepy Hollow are Bertram F. Bongard winner Flagshipenterprise, Absolutely Joe, Aladdin's Lamp, Bond Arbitrage, Delta Ghost, Friends Lake, Pa Pa Da, Rb's Glitter, Salty Character, and Saratoga Episode.

* The $100,000 Maid of the Mist, the filly counterpart to the Sleepy Hollow, is expected to draw runaway winner of this year's Joseph A. Gimma, Capeside Lady, Cella Luna, Clarksburg Queen, Dearest Heart, Front Line, Schemer, Stand on Top, and Wild Berry. So Sweet a Cat is possible.

* The entire weekend at Belmont is billed as New York Showcase Fall Festival. Saturday and Sunday, nearly 100 exhibitors will offer products and crafts made in New York. Family entertainment will include hayrides, pony rides, pumpkin decorating, and performances by the Islip Equestrian Drill Team, singer Julie Moffett, and guitarist Don Witter.

* Miss Fortunate and Finery are the main contenders in Friday's feature, a $49,000 allowance race for fillies and mares. The second-level allowance drew a field of eight. Miss Fortunate is coming off a win in a first-level allowance at Belmont at Friday's distance of seven furlongs. Finery, who is the pick if the track is wet, was second as the favorite in her last start.

- additional reporting by David Grening