08/07/2003 11:00PM

Vanderbilt: Ex-claimer vs. royalty


PHOENIX - Sunday's Grade 2 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga looks like a battle between rags-to-riches Shake You Down and riches-to-riches Mike's Classic.

Shake You Down has turned into a machine since trainer Scott Lake claimed him for $65,000 in March at Aqueduct. Shake You Down has since won five consecutive races, three of them graded stakes. In his last start he ran away and hid from a good field in Calder's Grade 3 Smile Sprint Handicap.

Shake You Down is perhaps the leading sprinter in the country, and will have had almost four weeks between the Smile and six-furlong Vanderbilt. Lake says all arrows are pointing up.

"He came out of the Smile better than he's come out of any of his other races for me," Lake said. "It was hot and humid down there, but he handled it well. You would think he's going to bounce a little, but I don't think it will matter. He's doing great."

Mike's Classic, by Seeking the Gold out of the top-class sprinter-miler Classy Mirage, certainly has a royal pedigree. After hinting at ability in the allowance ranks, he appears ready to take that next step.

Trained by Allen Jerkens, Mike's Classic has won three of his last four, including powerful wins in an N3X at Belmont June 19 (in the slop) and a classified allowance win at Belmont July 12. Jerkens isn't one to put his horses in the wrong spots, so if he believes this guy is ready for his first stakes engagement, then odds are he's ready.

With Shake You Down in the 1-2 range, and others like Najran, Mountain General, and State City taking money, Mike's Classic may well be in the 10-1 range.

An indicator not a challenge

Azeri goes for consecutive stakes win number 11 and win number 14 in 15 lifetime starts in Sunday's Grade 2 Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar. She made a shambles of her foes in Hollywood's Grade 1 Milady and Grade 1 Vanity. They were weak fields, but, hey, it's not her fault that neither Sightseek nor Wild Spirit was there.

There is a significant hurdle in the Hirsch, however. Got Koko had a tremendous winter for trainer Bruce Headley, sweeping the La Canada Series, and among her victims was the now much-ballyhooed Sightseek.

Got Koko was a dull fourth in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita in March and Headley decided it was time for a vacation. She has worked in solid fashion for her return and the Hirsch has been the target all along.

Truth is, Got Koko needs a big step forward if she's to be any kind of threat to Azeri, who won this race last year by the easiest two lengths you'll ever see. If nothing else, a good race by Got Koko will tell us where Azeri stands these days in relation to Bobby Frankel's two East Coast monsters Wild Spirit and Sightseek.