05/24/2002 12:00AM

There better be room for one more


PHOENIX - There's a pretty select club out there these days. In fact, for the moment there are just two members. Kona Gold and Affirmed Success, both 8 years old, have managed five years' worth of performing at a top-shelf level. It's tough enough to find a horse who can do that for two years.

But there's a knock on the door and potential for a third member to join the club.

Ladies Din is 7 years old now, and since 1998 he has been competitive with the best middle-distance turf milers in the game. He has just one Grade 1 victory, but his overall excellence gives him the right to ask for passage into this exclusive club. They won't be able to keep him out of the club should he be successful in Monday's Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park for trainer Julio Canani.

Ladies Din looks to break through after being runner-up in the Shoemaker Mile in 1999 and 2000. "Both times, he ran second to a champion, don't forget that," Canani said, referring to his two-time Shoemaker winner Silic, who won a Breeders' Cup race but was not actually a division winner.

Ladies Din worked a half-mile Tuesday in 46 seconds, according to Canani. The work did not make the tab.

As usual the Shoemaker Mile is coming up brutally tough. Last year's one-two finishers, Irish Prize and Touch of the Blues, both from the Neil Drysdale barn, are ready to go. Thady Quill, favored vs. Val Royal last fall in the Oak Tree Mile is here, and he just gave Ladies Din a big scare. Richard Mandella's rapidly improving The Tin Man, big closer Casey Griffin, and the fast Orientate also have their eyes on the prize. Things got a bit easier for Ladies Din when likely favorite Decarchy came up injured after a recent work.

Ladies Din is not only proven at this level, but also seemingly as good as ever. He missed the entire 2001 season because of injury. Though he lost in his March 22 comeback at Santa Anita, it was a terrific effort - winner Climate earned a 108 Beyer and was next seen in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve. Runner-up Shibboleth is a classy Bobby Frankel/Juddmonte import.

The best proof of Ladies Din current form came last out in a mile allowance turf race at Hollywood.

Ladies Din bided his time early, pulled his way to the lead going into the far turn and looked like a budding younger horse as he powered down the lane. Surely Thady Quill could have been closer had he not encountered trouble in the lane, but the day was Ladies Din's.

Curiously, that was his first win on the Hollywood turf from seven starts - he was disqualified from a stakes win back in 1997, and there were nose losses in the 1999 Shoemaker Mile to Silic, a half-length loss to Silic in the 2000 Shoemaker Mile, and a nose loss in the 2000 Citation.

Ladies Din was claimed by Canani out of his second career start, a $32,000 maiden claimer in July 1997, a race he won. He has compiled a 32-11-6-6 record for $1.6 million-plus. Boys, open the door.

'Banking' on the Met Mile

There's nothing better than a mile race, be it on turf or dirt. Belmont's Grade 1 Met Mile on Monday brings out a sterling field on the dirt. Even with the defections of Congaree, E Dubai, and Mizzen Mast the race is coming up extremely tough.

By virtue of his monster Cigar Mile win, Left Bank has proven this trip is right in his wheelhouse. By virtue of his strong Bold Ruler win a few weeks ago, his first race since last fall's Cigar Mile, Left Bank showed he's back and ready to go for Todd Pletcher. He figures extremely tough to deny.

The Met Mile routinely offers up tremendous wagering opportunities, and this year is no different. It's always the most wonderful mix of speed and stamina. One of the biggest reasons for Left Bank's success is he possesses the tactical speed to keep the sizzlers in his sights, but has the finish to outkick the routers. That's a lethal combination.

For wagering purposes he will be my key, though that's hardly a revelation, as he figures to be the favorite. But with the right hook-up underneath the tri can still come back nicely.

So, I will key Left Bank in a $1 trifecta over Aldebaran (Frankel continues to sing his praises as an enormously talented horse, and this mile figures ideal), Burning Roma (been pointing for this all along and his Carter finish was terrific), Crafty C. T. (the fact trainer Howard Zucker decided to ship here is quite encouraging and Crafty C. T. has fired big before off the bench), Redattore (could have stayed in California and run in the Shoemaker Mile; Mandella knew who he would be facing here yet still shipped), and Affirmed Success (you shouldn't have to ask). Should Affirmed Success not run, then use Voodoo in his place. That ticket is $20.

One final Preakness thought

Could it be any more fitting, that in the same year we lost Seattle Slew another colt comes along of the same color, same type of speed, and same type of courage? I'm not saying War Emblem is Seattle Slew yet, but he's doing a heck of an impersonation, isn't he?