07/02/2001 11:00PM

Tough going for Wittenberg in Molly Pitcher


OCEANPORT, N.J. - In the Grade 2, $300,000 Molly Pitcher Handicap this past Saturday, the fourth-place finisher may have run the best race.

The horse, Wittenberg, encountered a ton of obstacles in the race, yet still posed a threat to the eventual winner, March Magic, at the eighth pole. Trained by Vicki Oliver and ridden by Dale Beckner, Wittenberg finished less than a length back of the second-place horse.

Wittenberg encountered trouble right away, as the horses entered the first turn in the 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares. Going into the first turn, March Magic, under jockey Mike Luzzi on the rail, drifted out and forced License Fee wide. Consequently, Wittenberg and Resort, ridden by Eibar Coa, were forced wide, and Wittenberg was pinched back with License Fee on her inside and Resort on her right flank. Beckner had to snatch her back, as there was no room to run between License Fee and Resort. Wittenberg clipped heels and had to be grabbed up. She soon found herself at the back of the pack in seventh.

Down the backstretch, Wittenberg encountered more trouble when the Elliott Walden-trained License Fee broke down and jockey Pat Day was thrown off. At that point, Beckner had to take up Wittenberg to avoid the fallen License Fee.

Despite all the problems, Wittenberg made a strong move turning for home. She ran wide and moved into second by the eighth pole. But too much had been taken out of her, and Wittenberg tired to fourth, beaten a little less than a length by second-place finisher Vivid Sunset.

The disappointment was great for trainer Oliver. "I think I had the best horse in the race," she said. "I wish there was another graded stakes for fillies and mares here."

Thanks to Beckner, Wittenberg came out of the race uninjured. She will need more time before her next start.

"Luckily, she came out of the race well," Oliver said. "She is very tired, though. Dale did a great job bringing her home safe."

"She had to overcome too much," Beckner said. "It's disappointing to get an opportunity like that. You can't take anything away from her. She ran her eyeballs out. We just had no racing luck."

Blue Burner looking sharp

The first juvenile allowance of the meet is the third race on Thursday's nine-race card, and one standout seems prepared to use the race as a stepping-stone for future 2-year-old stakes, including the Grade 3 Sapling here Aug. 18. He is Blue Burner, a son of French Deputy.

The colt, trained by John Tammaro III, won his maiden race his first time out on June 14, under jockey C.H. Marquez. Dismissed at 14-1, breaking from post 10 in an 11-horse field, Blue Burner ran away with the race by more than five lengths.

Since that big effort, he has shown improvement in the mornings, firing two solid workouts over the track. His last workout, on June 30, was a bullet 59.60 seconds for five furlongs.

In Thursday's allowance at 5 1/2 furlongs, Blue Burner gains the services of the meet's leading rider, Joe Bravo, and will no doubt offer a much shorter price than in his last.

Of the other five horses in the field, the filly Lauraelise, trained by Wesley Ward, has the potential to knock off Blue Burner. The only filly in this race, Lauraelise was fifth in her last start, the Fashion Stakes at Belmont Park. She was sent off 7-2, but stumbled at the start.

Thistyranthasclass in open company

Thistyranthasclass takes on open company in Thursday's feature, a $41,000 optional claiming allowance for 3-year-olds and up at one mile and 70 yards.

A Jersey-bred, Thistyranthasclass took on state-breds for two races, winning the John J. Reilly Handicap on opening weekend, and then coming up a nose short to Sea of Tranquility in the Jersey Breeders' Handicap on June 16. He won the Long Branch Stakes last year and is 5-1-0 in seven starts at Monmouth.

According to his trainer, Tammaro, Thistyranthasclass bled through his small dosage of Lasix in his last race. He will break from post 2 with Marquez in the reins.