05/01/2007 11:00PM

Utopia scores off 13-month layoff


ELMONT, N.Y. - Godolphin Stable, which had a banner 2006 season in New York while winning stakes with Discreet Cat, Ashkal Way, and Afrashad, got off to a fast start when Utopia ($6.80) posted a game come-again victory under Mike Luzzi in the Grade 3, $105,700 Westchester Handicap on Wednesday's opening day at Belmont Park.

Making his first start since winning the Godolphin Mile in Dubai in March 2006, Utopia broke alertly and stalked pacesetter Happy Hunting through the opening half-mile, moved over to the rail approaching the stretch as Sun King and Political Force ranged alongside, and then battled back to prevail by a length. Political Force edged Sun King by a half-length for second, but was disqualified and placed third for lugging in and bumping with that rival repeatedly. Evening Attire and Happy Hunting completed the order of finish.

Utopia ran the mile in 1:33.23 over a drying-out main track that had been upgraded from good a race earlier. A 7-year-old horse who raced in Japan for most of his career, Utopia earned $64,620 and upped his lifetime bankroll to $4,887,885.

"He broke sharp and Mike really rode a good race on him," said Rick Mettee, assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor. "When you come back to win and get by a horse like Sun King, you have to feel pretty good about the effort, especially off a 13-month layoff."

Mettee said the next-race options for Utopia include the May 28 Metropolitan Handicap and the June 30 Suburban.

"If we brought him back in the Met Mile, he would be eligible to react after such a big race after such a long layoff," he said. "On the other hand, he's 7, and you are only going to get so many chances to run in a Grade 1 like the Met Mile. If you wait for the Suburban, you're going to hook Invasor in there, and I don't know if he can get a mile and a quarter against that type of horse. We'll play it by ear."

Sun King was the 3-2 favorite in his first start as a 5-year-old. He surged to the lead with a three-wide move coming to the quarter pole, and was then bounced around between horses through the stretch.

"I liked the way he galloped out," said trainer Nick Zito. "It was a rough race. He probably would have liked a little more speed in there. He galloped out better than anyone. Hopefully, the Met Mile will be next."

Papi Chullo debuts for Winning Move

Papi Chullo, who was purchased by Winning Move Stable after he finished last of seven in the Oaklawn Handicap last month, returns to New York for new trainer Gary Contessa in Friday's third race, a $50,000 third-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles.

Papi Chullo's last race on this circuit was a runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Queens County Handicap on Dec. 9 behind the multiple graded-stakes winner Magna Graduate.

The field of five also includes Barcola, formerly with Winning Move and Contessa when he put up a Beyer Speed Figure of 108 winning a first-level allowance on Aqueduct's inner track last Dec. 6. He was purchased after that race by Paul Reddam, and set the pace in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap two starts later for trainer Mark Hennig. He was a lengthy winner in the slop in his final start in Florida.

Also entered are Ferocious Won, Tasteyville, and Tall Story.

Steam-room glitch delays opener

A malfunction in the steam room in the jockeys' quarters resulted in the opening race of the meet being delayed for 10 minutes. Post time was pushed back to 1:10 p.m.

"The malfunction prevented jockeys from being able to reduce weight in their usual manner," said Charles Hayward, president and CEO of the New York Racing Association. "As a result, some riders are riding above their normal weight. We believe this to be a one-day situation that will quickly be resolved."

* On Wednesday, Sightseeing, the second-place finisher in the Wood Memorial, breezed an easy half-mile in 49.01 seconds on a main track labeled muddy in the wake of overnight rain.