04/10/2002 11:00PM

Top New England horses strut stuff


EAST BOSTON, Mass. - Three of the region's best horses made it to the winner's circle last week and a fourth was nearly sold for a large sum - sure signs that the best time of the New England racing calendar is here.

The cavalcade began last Saturday with Jini's Jet's too-close-for-comfort victory in the $30,000 Rise Jim Stakes. The two-time New England award winner needed all six furlongs to shake off the rust in his first start as a 4-year-old for Krystyna Stable, Anthony Spadea, and trainer Karl Grusmark.

"He didn't really change leads until late and I think the track was a little dead and slow," said Grusmark after the head victory over fast-closing Al Bark in the statebred race.

"I thought he was going to win easy, but he started to get tired at the end," said jockey Dyn Panell, who was also aboard for Jini's Jet's extremely fast workout seven days earlier. "That work took some of his energy away, but he dug in down there [along the rail]. He's going to get better, especially around two turns."

The date for that two-turn race could be April 20 in the William Almy Jr. Stakes at 1 1/16 miles. But that race is looking like a possible target for the highly touted Basil's Rhythm, who took center stage with an impressive come-from-behind victory in a $19,500 allowance Monday.

The victory snapped a five-race losing streak and bolstered trainer Art Maniatis's Mass Cap hopes for Basil's Rhythm, a 4-year-old son of Rhythm.

Comic Genius's connections aren't thinking Almy, but they are thinking Mass Cap after his easy front-running score in Tuesday's $16,000 feature.

A son of Unbridled, he is pointing for the Westchester Handicap at Belmont on May 8 after easily winning his first start around two turns this year under Joe Hampshire, finishing 6 1/4 lengths ahead of Canoe in 1:42.48 into a strong headwind.

"He had a job to do," said trainer Peter Bazeos. "The next stop will be Belmont. This is just the latest step."

Large show wagers on Jini's Jet and Comic Genius cost Suffolk Downs $18,209 in minus pool payouts.

While Jini's Jet, Basil's Rhythm, and Comic Genius were making cases for themselves as best on the grounds, Stylish Sultan almost left the Suffolk backside with $250,000 worth of proof that he's better than all three.

A sale of Stylish Sultan, Massachusetts-bred winner of the Rudy Baez Stakes, for that price to bloodstock agents Narvick International in California fell through at the last minute. Instead, Stylish Sultan will race in the $150,000 Bay Shore Stakes today at Aqueduct.

"I hated to sell him," said Stylish Sultan's owner Manfred Roos. "They came out and watched him work and made me an offer I couldn't refuse. Everything was good, but they changed their minds after watching his last race. If he runs well in New York, we'll feel really good. But regardless, I know as long as he stays sound, he's going to be a great money earner around here."

* Sunlit Ridge, Stylish Sultan's full sister, gets a rematch with Dr. Desai in the $30,000 First Episode Stakes for Mass.-bred fillies and mares on Saturday. Dr. Desai escaped with a victory in the six furlongs Isadorable last month, but Sunlit Ridge, who was a champion on three divisions last year, was coming off a three-month layoff and returns to a preferred 1 1/16-mile distance in the First Episode.