06/28/2006 11:00PM

Tap Day live overlay, ditto Lemons Forever

Bill Denver / EquiPhotos
Meadowlands Cup winner Tap Day has back figures that bode well for him in the Suburban.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Seven stakes are scheduled for the four-day holiday weekend at Belmont Park, starting with the two most prestigious ones on Saturday, the Suburban Handicap and the Mother Goose. Let's look at them:

Suburban - For a Grade 1 race with a $400,000 purse, and one that has been won by the likes of Nashua, Kelso, Dr. Fager, and Forego, this race doesn't have much early speed. None of the seven entrants typically go to the front early, so the pace scenario may come down to Edgar Prado on Wild Desert and Fernando Jara on Invasor, who figure to be on or near the lead by default. What makes it especially interesting is that each jockey is riding his horse for the first time.

It is tempting to take a shot against Invasor, who was purchased by Shadwell Stable for a reported $1.4 million after winning his first five starts in Uruguay. The Pimlico Special that he won will not go down as the strongest Special field ever assembled; runner-up Wanderin Boy and third-finisher West Virginia have won at the Grade 3 level, nothing more.

But with the exception of Wilko, who hasn't won since the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile and has been beaten 74 lengths in his last six Grade 1 starts, Invasor doesn't meet Grade 1 horses in this spot, either. Andromeda's Hero was closest to Afleet Alex in last year's Belmont Stakes, but someone had to run second, and he has established himself as Grade 3 quality. Noble Causeway tried Grade 3 company twice recently, and wasn't close. Rathor is 3 for 3 since being imported to the U.S., and did run well at 1 1/4 miles on turf overseas, but he will have to raise his game another notch.

That leaves Wild Desert, the winner of the Queen's Plate (the world's richest restricted stakes), and Tap Day.

Tap Day made up a lot of ground to finish second in this race last year at 25-1. He won't be 25-1 again, but he still might offer some value if bettors pound Invasor and settle on Rathor and Wild Desert as the main alternatives.

Like Rathor, Tap Day beat up on Sinister G in his last start and received a Beyer Speed Figure in the 90's. The difference might turn out to be that Tap Day has better figures to run back to.

Mother Goose - It's fair to say that after the first half of the season, no one has a clue as to who the best filly in this division might be. Indeed, the contenders in the Mother Goose all have questions to answer.

Bushfire has been running well all year, but her maiden win earned a Beyer of 85 and she was all out to earn figures of 88 and 89 in the Kentucky Oaks and Acorn, so she's only marginally faster than she was as a 2-year-old last fall. She's also coming back just three weeks after a gut-wrenching effort in the Acorn - a come-again win on a track that was carrying early speed exceptionally well in the day's one-turn races.

Joint Effort and Ready to Please figure close based on the Dogwood Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs, where they were separated by one length. But Joint Effort has been a sprinter-miler type, and Ready to Please has raced beyond a mile only once, when she sat a perfect ground-saving trip and inherited the lead when 40-1 shot Miss Norman bolted turning for home in the 1 1/16-mile Fantasy Stakes.

Teammate is as fast or faster than these based on her win in the Bonnie Miss in early March, but was subsequently sidelined by a foot bruise. Her last-place finish in the Acorn suggests she is a long way from top form.

Lemons Forever, the Kentucky Oaks winner, is the lone entrant never to have raced in New York, but her sire, Lemon Drop Kid, won the 1999 Belmont Stakes and the 2000 Suburban, so she may take to this surface nicely. The main question is, was her Oaks win at 47-1 a fluke, or is she the real deal?

"She's done very well since the Oaks," said trainer Dallas Stewart. "It didn't really make much sense to me to turn her back to a mile after running a mile and an eighth in the Oaks, so we skipped the Acorn and pointed for this."

With nearly two months off since the Oaks and some good-looking works leading to the Mother Goose, Lemons Forever should fire her best shot, and the 1 1/8-mile distance works to her advantage.