09/07/2005 11:00PM

Team effort for Saint Liam

Commentator (right) held on over Saint Liam to win the Whitney, but a rabbit could make his task tougher.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. felt Commentator stole last month's Whitney Handicap from Saint Liam by being able to get loose on the lead early and having enough energy left to hold on by a neck.

Saturday, when Commentator and the Dutrow-trained Saint Liam renew acquaintances in the $500,000 , Dutrow will try to make things harder for Commentator by putting in a pacemaker, or rabbit, to prohibit Commentator from getting clear again.

Whether that strategy works is the major storyline of the first major day of racing at Belmont Park's fall meet. The Woodward is one of four

Grade 1 stakes on the 11-race card, along with the Man o' War for 3-year-olds and up on turf, the Gazelle for 3-year-old fillies on dirt, and the Garden City Breeders' Cup Handicap for 3-year-old fillies on grass. The four races will be part of an all-stakes pick four wager with a guaranteed pool of $500,000.

All four races could have an impact on the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, which will be held here on Oct. 29.

The $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic is the main objective for Saint Liam, whose wins in the Donn and Stephen Foster handicaps established him as one of the top older horses in the country.

Dutrow nominated four speed horses to the Woodward, and entered both Crafty Player and Show Boot, who can run a sub-45-second half-mile. It is expected that only one would run, though different jocks are named on both.

"We're not going to do anything stupid, we're just going to keep that other horse busy for the first five-eighths or three-quarters," Dutrow said, referring to Commentator. "I don't like the idea of doing it - I wouldn't like it if somebody did that to us - but we've got to play the game and do what's best for our horse."

Dutrow's goal is to make sure Saint Liam is close enough to the Nick Zito-trained Commentator so that when the real running starts, he doesn't have as much ground to make up. Jerry Bailey, a five-time Woodward winner, replaces Edgar Prado aboard Saint Liam, who breaks from post 3.

"As long as everybody breaks good, I would be guessing we'd be two or three off of them," Dutrow said. "I can't imagine Zito telling Gary Stevens to go with his horse and set blistering fractions. I would say they would want to try and slow it down as much as they could. That's going to put Saint Liam closer naturally."

Zito knows a thing or two about rabbits. In 1983, Zito ran Sir Mala Mala as a rabbit to help Slew o' Gold, trained by Sidney Watters, win the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Both horses were owned by Equusequity Stable.

In 1992, Zito used Loach as a rabbit for Strike the Gold in the Iselin and Whitney handicaps. Strike the Gold did not win either race.

Zito said he will instruct Stevens to simply ride his race. "I have complete confidence in my jockey; not 100 percent, not 1,000 percent, but a billion percent," Zito said.

Stevens admits that he doesn't know how Commentator will react to having a horse in front of him - if one is able to get there.

"I don't send him, he puts himself there," Stevens said. "He's got a natural cruising speed. I could realistically be in front of the rabbit."

Zito and Stevens are more concerned about the fact Commentator picks up 10 pounds from the Whitney. Under the weight-for-age conditions of the Woodward, Commentator and Saint Liam will both carry 126 pounds.

"To me that's even more important than the rabbit," Zito said. "That's a serious amount of weight. But this is a tremendous horse."

Zito will also run Sir Shackleton, who finished third in the Whitney. Both Zito horses are owned by Tracy Farmer and will be coupled.

Shaniko, an 11-length winner of a third-level allowance race, completes the field.

With four betting interests in the Woodward, there will be no show or trifecta wagering.

The field

Purse: $500,000; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 1

1a-Sir ShackletonR. Bejarano1-1
2ShanikoJ. Velazquez10-1
3Saint LiamJ. Bailey3-5
4a-CommentatorG. Stevens1-1
5b-Show BootR. Rojas30-1
6b-Crafty PlayerR. Rodriguez30-1

* a-coupled, b-coupled
* All starters carry 126 pounds
* Odds by Art Gropper