07/15/2004 12:00AM

What's ailing Kicken Kris?


ELMONT, N.Y. - Kicken Kris is coming off two subpar efforts, which has left his trainer, Michael Matz, a bit baffled.

Saturday at Belmont Park in the $150,000 Bowling Green Handicap, Matz is hoping Kicken Kris returns to the solid form he had last year when he won the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington Park.

carries 117 pounds as the highweight in the Grade 2 Bowling Green, which drew 11 male turf runners.

Last year as a 3-year-old, Kicken Kris earned nearly $600,000. Besides winning the Secretariat and Grade 3 Lawrence Realization at Belmont, he also finished second in the Virginia Derby and Grade 2 Jamaica, and was third in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby.

Kicken Kris ran well to finish third in the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap in his first start of the year, but his next two races weren't nearly as good.

At Churchill Downs in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on May 1, he finished sixth over a yielding course after a severe thunderstorm struck before the race. In his next start, the Grade 1 Manhattan at Belmont on June 5, Kicken Kris finished last.

"I don't know why he ran like he did in the Manhattan," Matz said. "I thought he might have had a little excuse at Churchill with the soft going. He trained well for those races and for this race. I really don't know what to expect."

Edgar Prado rides Kicken Kris from post 7 in the 1 3/8-mile Bowling Green.

B. A. Way took some time to come to hand, but once equipped with blinkers in March, he has improved considerably. B. A. Way, who is making his stakes debut, has won four of his last five starts, including his last two at Belmont.

"I think he has beat some nice horses," said Rick Violette Jr., B. A. Way's trainer. "He's a neat horse and was only a [half-length] away from winning five in a row at three different tracks."

, second to B. A. Way in his last start, is also in the field.

is an intriguing horse. He made his grass debut in his last start, the Dallas Turf Cup at Lone Star on June 19, and finished third after trailing the field by more than 15 lengths on the backstretch. In the Turf Cup, A to the Z earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 99, a jump from his previous career-best, 82.

Better Talk Now won the Grade 2 Knickerbocker at Aqueduct in November.