09/15/2008 12:00AM

Taking the softer spot


ELMONT, N.Y. - Given the option of running against more accomplished 3-year-olds in a stakes or facing older horses in an allowance race, the connections of National Pride opted for the latter.

Thus, National Pride goes from longshot to potential favorite in Wednesday's featured $58,000 second-level allowance feature at Belmont Park.

Like Sunday's Step Nicely Stakes from which National Pride scratched, Wednesday's race is run as a one-turn mile. National Pride is coming off a nonwinners-of-two-lifetime allowance race victory at Saratoga in which he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 93.

In addition to the class relief, two other reasons for National Pride running Wednesday is the fact that he drew post 3 instead of the rail and the likelihood of cooler weather.

"That it wasn't going to be so stifling hot we thought was a factor," said Rick Mettee, who oversees Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's New York string of Godolphin runners. "The first time we ran him at Saratoga, it was a real hot day and he nearly fell on his head at the start. The weather being better and not drawing the one-hole, we thought this might be a little easier spot."

National Pride, a son of Macho Uno, won his career debut last Nov. 17 for trainer Gary Contessa. Godolphin purchased the horse privately, though he didn't run until Aug. 2 when he stumbled badly at the start and finished seventh. Fourteen days later, National Pride got up in the final strides to win by a head.

Two horses returning from layoffs and making their debuts for new connections loom the most interesting challengers. Sleek Hunter has not been out since last Nov. 2, but has been training steadily for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., who saddles the 4-year-old Jade Hunter colt for the first time. In his last two tries at this level, Sleek Hunter faced eventual stakes winners Ravel and Prom Shoes.

"I don't know what's going to happen from the rail, but he's all right, this horse," Dutrow said.

Cassoulet hasn't been out since winning a first-level allowance race last Nov. 10 at Laurel Park for trainer Graham Motion. Owner Donald Adam moved Cassoulet to Kiaran McLaughlin, and he shows a series of sharp workouts in Saratoga.

With Alan Garcia on suspension this week, Cornelio Velasquez has the call.

Goldsville is a winner at Belmont and has run his best race in a one-turn mile situation at Gulfstream. Greeley's Legacy has faced stakes winners Timber Reserve, Wanderin Boy, and Tasteyville in his last three outs.