09/29/2008 11:00PM

Uncertainty rules in grass feature


ELMONT, N.Y. - Two overnight stakes highlight Belmont Park's Thursday program. The $75,000 Strawberry Burrah, at 1 1/8 miles on the inner turf, conditions permitting, goes as race 8, with a field of 11 older males, plus three entered for dirt only. The $75,000 Quick Mischief, at 1 1/16 miles for fillies and mares, goes as race 3, with a field of five.

A pace analysis for the Strawberry Burrah hinges on Shake the Bank, the pacesetter at times for noted stablemate Better Talk Now. Shake the Bank was also entered in race 4 Thursday at the Meadowlands, an optional claimer with third-level conditions at a mile and 70 yards, for which he drew post 10.

"That may be the better spot for him, though he looks like he would be the speed of the race [at Belmont]," said trainer Graham Motion, who said he was leaning toward the Meadowlands race.

If Shake the Bank doesn't run in the Strawberry Burrah, Sensational Humor, coming off pace-pressing efforts in the Grade 3 Poker and Grade 2 Bernard Baruch might cut the fractions.

Another key is what to do with Danak, who makes his first start since being pulled up as the favorite in the Grade 2 Fourstardave two months ago. Danak "grabbed a shoe off" in the Fourstardave, said Kiaran McLaughlin, and sustained cuts on his left-front and left-hind legs in the incident.

Minister's Joy and Formal Decree, first and second in a high-end allowance going 1o1/16 miles at Saratoga, loom strong contenders. Hard Top, first-time Todd Pletcher, lends intrigue in his first start since winning a $175,000 handicap in Dubai last winter.

The Quick Mischief offers the return of Never Retreat, who takes on older rivals in her first start for trainer Seth Benzel, and her first start since setting the pace against Music Note in the Mother Goose and Coaching Club Oaks.

"She's obviously a very talented filly who ran against some of the best in her division, but the A-number-one thing now is to try and get a win under her belt and get some confidence in her," said Benzel.

Never Retreat began her career with two stalking-trip wins. Benzel wants a return to that strategy. "I'd like to see her rate off and make a run," he said.