09/23/2004 12:00AM

Trip likely to make difference


ELMONT, N.Y. - With Quantum Merit sidelined by injury, the New York-bred division of male turf horses is wide open. Several of the division's top runners will square off in Saturday's $100,000-added Ashley T. Cole Handicap at Belmont Park.

For some of the runners in the 10-horse field, the Cole, a 1 1/8-mile turf race, will serve as a stepping-stone to the $150,000 Mohawk Handicap on New York Showcase Day on Oct. 23.

, Foreverness, and Irish Colonial, the first three under the wire in the West Point at Saratoga on Aug. 15, are the main contenders in the Cole. Not much separates those three and it could come down to who carves out the better trip.

Irish Colonial will carry top weight of 120 pounds, two more than Foreverness and Golden Commander, who is coupled with Provincetown.

is looking for his first win since the Kingston here in May 2003.

Although he has won over a firm course, the likely condition this weekend, Irish Colonial's best races have come on ground with some give to it.

After finishing a close third over a yielding course in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch on July 30, Irish Colonial ran back over a "good" course in the West Point and was beaten less than a length by Golden Commander. In the stretch of the West Point, it looked like Irish Colonial was on his way to victory.

"He ran super; the rail opened up early and he had to go," said Randy Schulhofer, Irish Colonial's trainer. "It looked like he would kick on clear the last part of it, but the ground had a little give to it and he was caught."

Schulhofer has made a rider change to John Velazquez. Irish Colonial drew post 4.

After the West Point, trainer Phil Serpe ran Golden Commander back in the Troy on Sept. 3, and the gelding finished third as the favorite.

"He got stuck inside and he's the type of horse that needs to be running around the turn," Serpe said. "It was an excellent race, especially coming off a tough race."

will try to break his streak of runner-up finishes. He came within a nose of catching Quantum Merit in the Kingston in May and was beaten a half-length by Golden Commander in the West Point. In between, he finished second in an open allowance race behind next-out winner Hotstufanthensome.

Certifiably and Traffic Chief, the speed horses in the race, drew posts 9 and 10.