07/10/2002 11:00PM

Velazquez on another live mount

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ELMONT, N.Y. - John Velazquez carried his own fireworks over the July 4 weekend, riding Left Bank to win the $150,000 Tom Fool, E Dubai to win the $500,000 Suburban, Carson Hollow to win the $200,000 Prioress, and Gygistar to win the $150,000 Dwyer. He leads all riders at the prestigious Belmont Park spring meeting and is high up in the national standings with more than $6 million in purses won.

Can he continue his torrid pace? He appears to have a good chance in Saturday's $150,000 Bowling Green at 1 3/8 miles on the grass with Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum's improving Moon Solitaire. A 5-year-old horse by the Northern Dancer stallion Night Shift, Moon Solitaire raced in England until sent last fall to trainer Henry Cochran in Kentucky. He has raced twice in North America, and did well on both occasions.

Sheikh Maktoum's Gainsborough Stud bought Moon Solitaire at the Tattersalls yearling sale of 1998 for about $215,000. He was a moderate horse in England, won 1 of 7 races last season, and was transferred by Sheikh Maktoum's racing manager, Harley Clemons, to Cochran's barn at Churchill Downs. Moon Solitaire was a close second in his mid-May U.S. debut in Louisville. Several weeks later, he flew to Toronto to win the King Edward Breeders' Cup Handicap by a convincing two lengths.

"He showed good speed in both races," Cochran said "He handles himself well and we are looking forward to a good season with him. There are some good grass horses in the Bowling Green. Startac, from California, bears watching and so does Staging Post, who turned in a strong effort in the San Juan Capistrano. But Moon Solitaire trained very nicely for his race."

Cochran, 40, is a Marylander who went to New York and served as an assistant for six years to Tom Skiffington at a time when Anka Germania, Fieldy, and Salem Drive were stars of the stable. In 1994 he went on his own and has done well, attracting the interest of Sheikh Maktoum, who has sent him half a dozen horses.

'Desert to the Derby' a good read

Speaking of the Maktoum family of Dubai, I recently finished an excellent book "From the Desert to the Derby" by Jason Levin (Daily Racing Form Press, $24.95) which relates in fascinating detail Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's quest to win the Kentucky Derby.

Sheikh Mohammed is easily the most personable and most interesting of the four brothers who rule Dubai. He announced several years ago that his stable will win the Kentucky Derby and will do it his way, training the horses in Dubai. He has yet to achieve his objective but he continues to spend millions in pursuit of this difficult goal.

Levin keeps his story moving at a lively pace and is particularly effective in re-creating the tense scene at Keeneland on the morning of Sept. 11, when the racing world's most important sale was interrupted by the shattering news from New York.