10/02/2002 11:00PM

Taking a swing at Belmont's stakes-heavy day


ELMONT, N.Y. - When a horseplayer fancies the chances of a horse such as Repent and then watches him stagger home as though struck by a croquet mallet, it's natural to become apprehensive about subsequent handicapping opinions.

But one of the charms of the fall season is that after you're left scratching your head about the performance, or lack thereof, of one supposedly big-time stakes runner, lots more of them will soon congregate for your wagering pleasure.

Anyway, that's the outlook taken for the next round of Breeders' Cup preps Saturday at Belmont Park. Keep swinging and sooner or later some of them will unfold according to plan.

Frizette: It begins four straight stakes, but much to the dismay of anyone looking to start off by singling the unbeaten Storm Flag Flying, it is the sixth race on the program and thus excluded from the pick four.

The pace scenario is a bit fuzzy, because none of these 2-year-old fillies is a confirmed early-speed type. Perhaps it will be Santa Catarina, the probable second choice, who goes for the lead. After a troubled trip in her debut, she was on the lead for a handy maiden triumph at Del Mar, then lacked room at the quarter pole of the Debutante. Be advised, however, that in her stakes debut she actually had less trouble than stablemate and eventual winner Miss Houdini, who was much the best after breaking slowly and being rushed up on the outside.

Showers are in the forecast for the weekend (what else is new?), and if the track comes up wet, then Santa Catarina (410 Tomlinson) could have an advantageous position splashing mud back at the rest. But then again, Storm Flag Flying already has a wet-track race at Belmont under her belt, and all she did was dominate the Matron by more than a dozen lengths on a harrowed "good" surface.

A potential wise-guy play could be One and Twenty, because at this point it is hard to determine whether her two-race winning streak is due to the addition of Lasix, the stretch to routes, the switch to grass, or all of the above. If it's primarily because of the medication or the added ground, and not the turf, she figures to contend at a price.

Moreover, it may prove noteworthy that One and Twenty's career began with two sprints at Belmont, and in each she raced against the grain of exceptionally speed-favoring tracks.

Kelso Handicap: The pace complexion of the Kelso on the grass is much clearer. With the likes of Krieger, Saint Verre, and Patrol in the mix, the fractions figure to be hotly contested.

Patrol is the best of the speeds. After breaking behind the field, rushing up while rank, and fading to third as the 3-5 choice in Saratoga's Hall of Fame, Patrol added Lasix and missed a Meadowlands course record by a mere .20 second in the Rushing Man.

This will be Patrol's first try against older stakes horses, and it didn't help that he drew in between his potential pace protagonists, but at distances under nine furlongs he has shown the ability to set a fast pace and keep going. That is something Patrol will have to do in order to stave off Forbidden Apple, who is looking for his third straight Kelso victory, and who adores rain-softened turf at Belmont, where he has banked over $1 million, helped by a runner-up finish in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile.

Forbidden Apple was very game on the lead in the Arlington Million, but can be expected to seek out his customary stalking position turning back to a one-mile race that contains plenty of pace.

Beldame: Who is better, Summer Colony or Azeri? That debate may not be settled until the Breeders' Cup Distaff, but it's interesting to note that in last month's Gazelle, the 3-year-old filly Imperial Gesture ran faster (112 Beyer) than either one of them.

As plainly talented as she is, the caveat with Imperial Gesture is that her Gazelle was accomplished courtesy of an uncontested lead on a track that was decidedly speed-favoring.

Summer Colony deserves special praise and admiration as one of those increasingly rare Thoroughbreds who brings her lunch pail to work each time. But it's also true that all nine of her victories have come in two-turn races, and the 1 1/8-mile Beldame is run around only one.

That may be a moot point for Summer Colony, who will be odds-on to run well anyway, but there is a form factor to file away for three weeks down the road: Summer Colony has not run since a dominating win in the Personal Ensign on Aug. 23, and if I were Mark Hennig, I would bring her up to the Distaff off works, because she has won with career-top Beyers to begin each of her last two form cycles, beginning with a ship-and-win score over Azeri while giving that rival weight in the La Canada. Ominously, as far as Summer Colony's Breeders' Cup chances are concerned, both losses this year came immediately following her big-figure return wins, a second at 6-5 with an eight-point bounce, and a second at 3-5 with a five-point regression. Look to capitalize on that pattern at Arlington if Summer Colony has a hard comeback race in the Beldame.

Champagne: Unless someone improves big time, which is always a possibility with 2-year-olds in the fall, Pretty Wild and Icecoldbeer-atreds are the most logical winners.

Pretty Wild has a home-court advantage with four races over the track, but it's hard to say what kind of effort he's sitting on after pairing up big figures in the Hopeful and Futurity. Does he bounce off those two tops, or are they merely a springboard to bigger and better efforts? Icecoldbeeratreds benefited from a speed-favoring track to win the Del Mar Futurity, and was also helped by the fact that stablemate Bull Market was off slowly and steadied before rushing up as the favorite. He's never raced at Belmont, but then his sire, In Excess, holds the 1 1/4-mile track record here.