06/02/2004 11:00PM

Value Plus returns in sprint

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Take a hot trainer, add in a talented horse who gets in light and looms the main speed, and you have a pretty salty contender for Saturday's Grade 2, $250,000 Riva Ridge Stakes at Belmont Park.

After beginning the meet 3 for 22, trainer Todd Pletcher has won with 8 of the last 22 horses he has saddled at Belmont since May 21. Pletcher entered both in the Riva Ridge, but plans to only run Value Plus. Either one would be the horse to catch and beat in the seven-furlong race.

Value Plus was on the Derby trail earlier this year, but a sixth-place finish in the Wood Memorial kept him in his Belmont Park barn the first Saturday in May. While Pletcher isn't convinced Value Plus can't go long, the best race Value Plus has run came in a seven-furlong allowance event at Gulfstream in February.

"His form indicates he's a little better at shorter distances right now," Pletcher said. "Still, to watch him train you wouldn't imagine he wouldn't go further. Once we concluded we weren't going to the Derby, we circled this race on the calendar and pointed for it, and everything has gone according to plan."

Under the allowance conditions of the Riva Ridge, Value Plus gets in with 115 pounds, an eight-pound concession from stakes winners Fire Slam, Saratoga County, and Abbondanza. Value Plus breaks from post 7 in the nine-horse field. He could be on the lead or sitting just off Indian War Dancer, who, two starts back, dueled through fast fractions when beaten 11 lengths in the Bay Shore.

Fire Slam, who has won at a mile around two turns, comes off a super effort winning the six-furlong Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill on May 8.

"They went very fast early and he inhaled them turning for home," trainer David Carroll said. "Pat [Day] came back and apologized for his ride because he felt he moved way too soon. He's a horse that once he gets the lead he feels he's done enough. His last two works have been awesome. I am concerned about the weight difference with Value Plus, but he deserves a chance. The distance will be great, and hopefully he'll like the track."

Abbondanza picks up eight pounds off a narrow victory in the Hirsch Jacobs at Pimlico on Preakness Day. Saratoga County was talented enough to win the Gotham. Teton Forest and Stolen Time have run races to be competitive here. Smokume wheels back after winning a minor stakes at Monmouth last Saturday.