05/24/2001 11:00PM

Traditionally ready to live up to promise


PHOENIX - For a long time trainer Shug McGaughey has had to deal with unrealistic expectations. After such a strong run in the 1980's, when everything he sent out cloaked in the black and cherry silks of the Phipps family was winning, many expected that every year McGaughey would have another Easy Goer or Personal Ensign or Inside Information. The game just doesn't work that way.

Many McGaughey-Phipps runners, saddled with such high expectations, have been overrated. So it's interesting that a horse who may very well be underrated has a chance to thrust McGaughey and the Phippses back into the national spotlight. It can happen as early as Monday.

Traditionally was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He's by Mr. Prospector out of the marvelous Personal Ensign. But until recently, Traditionally was an underachiever, and that's probably being kind.

Rider Pat Day, however, seems to have found a key to Traditionally's performance: Leave him alone. Traditionally wants to do things his way. Think of him as the brilliant but erratic student who when prodded and given attention refuses to perform. But when left alone, he can come up with great things.

When Traditionally goes in Monday's Met Mile at Belmont, he has a chance to issue a challenge to the likes of Tiznow and Captain Steve.

This winter at Gulfstream, Traditionally grew fangs, destroying optional claiming runners. McGaughey put him in the Oaklawn Handicap, and Traditionally made a big splash. Wooden Phone, fresh off big performances out West, including a win over Tiznow, was the favorite. Traditionally blew by him, and McGaughey's suspicion that he had his hands on a tiger were confirmed.

The Met Mile is perfect for Traditionally. With Trippi in the race a fast pace is ensured, which would give Traditionally a good set-up. But even if they don't go fast early, Traditionally has tactical speed; in his wins this year he was on the lead after a mile.

The Met Mile also works out perfectly for Traditionally in terms of planning a summer and fall campaign. From there he can hit the Brooklyn, then the Suburban, Whitney, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup. Then, the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Traditionally should be a decent price in the Met Mile. Peeping Tom might be favored, but the only time he has met a horse with Traditionally's talent came in last year's Cigar Mile, in which he ran second to El Corredor.

Traditionally, at one time McGaughey's ornery student, may well turn out to be the most likely to succeed, and I expect that to start Monday, hopefully at around 4-1.

Met Mile selections: Traditionally, Peeping Tom, Exchange Rate.

Shoemaker Mile

Another mile race Monday presents a wonderful betting opportunity. The Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile on the turf at Hollywood brings out the West's best middle-distance turf horses, a division that is still trying to sort itself out.

Some familiar names will not run in the Shoemaker. There will be no Hawksley Hill, no Ladies Din. The mare Tranquility Lake would have been a most interesting entrant, but her connections probably did the wise thing and kept her with the girls in Saturday's Gamely.

Contention in the Shoemaker runs awfully deep. Like in the Met Mile, a fast pace seems assured. Hollycombe and Lake William won't be going slowly, and Spinelessjellyfish doesn't figure far off the pace, either.

So it looks like a great set-up for someone to blast home, like Silic last year. The candidate that interests me most is Fateful Dream. Trainer Bobby Frankel was expecting big things from Fateful Dream in the winter and spring, but Fateful Dream was a bust in the Explosive Bid at Fair Grounds in March.

So it was back to the drawing board, and that meant back to Southern California. He found a hole in the Inglewood Handicap last month and blasted through to a victory. He likes the course, likes the mile, and possesses acceleration that maybe no one else in the Shoemaker has. He may also go off at around 6-1.

Irish Prize, trained by Neil Drysdale, can kick home well, too, but the other Drysdale horse, Touch of the Blues, may have more of a burst, and comes off a big work in which he blew by Irish Prize.

Spinelessjellyfish gave Chris McCarron win No. 7,000 a few weeks ago.

Then there's Brahms. When he got disqualified into last year's Hollywood Derby win he looked like a major horse in the making. However, while he has run well twice this year he hasn't quite shown the same fire he did in the Hollywood Derby. Could it be that he was the bully on the block at 3, but now his rivals have grown up and caught up to him?

Right now he looks like the type who may always find one or two just a bit better at this level. Brahms's regular rider, Day, is staying in New York to ride Traditionally on Monday, though you obviously can't blame him.

Shoemaker Mile selections: Fateful Dream, Touch of the Blues, Redattore.

Preakness thoughts

Point Given certainly re-established himself as the best 3-year-old in the country with his monstrous Preakness win, but the Monarchos contingent shouldn't give up hope. One thing that struck me when watching the replay was how cautiously Monarchos seemed to be travelling on the turns. This may well have been a function of his not handling the track, and he'll surely relish the wider, sweeping Belmont turns.

That may not be enough to turn the tables on Point Given, who still has room for improvement, but if bettors go nuts on Point Given and allow Monarchos to slide up in price - which isn't inconceivable if other bettors jump on the A P Valentine and Dollar Bill bandwagons - then the Derby winner could certainly become an attractive proposition.