08/05/2003 11:00PM

West Point boils down to surface

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - It may be best to wait until the last possible moment before handicapping Friday's $100,000 West Point Handicap for New York-breds, scheduled for 1 1/8 miles on the turf.

Sixteen were entered for the West Point, and the complexion of the race will change dramatically depending on which surface the race is run and in what condition that surface is in come post time. On turf, the field will be limited to 12 runners.

Statement, a son of Seattle Slew, would be the horse to beat if the turf is firm. But that scenario does not appear likely given the rain that has fallen and the prediction of more to come. The fact he is the 122-pound highweight and drew post 11 makes him a more undesirable play despite the presence of Jerry Bailey in the saddle.

Finality, the second highweight at 120 pounds, is also vulnerable. A 4-year-old son of Dehere, Finality has made only one start since winning last September's Grade 2 Jamaica Handicap, that being a last-place finish in the Poker Handicap on July 5. Trainer Todd Pletcher said Finality prefers firm ground as well.

A horse who could offer value in the West Point is Captain Nicholas, a 5-year-old gelding who ships in from Chicago for the Arlington-based trainer Rebecca Maker. Captain Nicholas has run well in three starts for Maker and is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Sea o'Erin Breeders' Cup Handicap at Arlington on June 15, when he was beaten by one length.

"I've been pointing him for this race for a while," said Maker, a former assistant to trainers D. Wayne Lukas and Dallas Stewart who went out on her own a year ago. "I thought he'd be very live in the race. In the Sea o'Erin, he never stopped running. They did run him down, but approaching the wire he was coming up on their heels."

Frank Lovato, a former regular on this circuit, returns to ride Captain Nicholas from post 8.

Captain Nicholas, a front-runner, will have to discourage an early pace challenge from Reluctant Groom, who was beaten a nose in this race a year ago. Reluctant Groom, who drew post 12, is 1-2-0 from three starts at Saratoga.

Celtic Sky ran down Reluctant Groom in last year's West Point, but is winless in four starts since.

If the race is moved to the dirt, Private Emblem, winner of last year's Albany Handicap, and Well Fancied, who won the Evan Shipman on closing day at Belmont, are the ones to beat.