07/29/2002 11:00PM

Whitney a crucial race for Unshaded

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Unshaded became the toast of the racing world here two years ago after outfinishing Albert the Great to win the Travers. He will attempt to move back into the national spotlight when he takes on Street Cry, Lido Palace, Macho Uno, and Left Bank in Saturday's Grade 1 Whitney Handicap.

Unshaded turned in his final prep for the 1 1/8-mile Whitney here Tuesday morning, working an easy five furlongs in 1:02.85 under exercise rider Tracy Wilkes. Regular jockey Jon Court will be aboard Saturday.

Unshaded has just a single victory since the Travers, and is winless over the past 15 months. His trainer, Carl Nafzger, acknowledges that Unshaded will be a longshot in the Whitney.

"He's definitely a longshot, but we've planned on coming here all along," Nafzger said. "He obviously loves this track and now it's just a matter of seeing if he fires. If he fires and runs well Saturday, we're on track. If not there's a mile and one-quarter race in three weeks that fits him perfectly."

Nafzger was referring to the $200,000 Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap on Aug. 17.

Unshaded finished sixth, beaten five lengths by Lido Palace, in the 2001 Whitney, and did not start again until mid-May. He rallied to be second in the Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows in his last start.

"He's had three races under his belt now, and he wouldn't still be running if he wasn't doing well," said Nafzger. "We're not going into the Whitney hoping he accidentally runs a good race. We're in it to see if he will run a good race. Then we'll know he's back."

Three-year-olds ready to return

While War Emblem, Medaglia d'Oro, and other leading members of the 3-year-old division will be in action this weekend here in the Jim Dandy and at Monmouth Park in the Haskell, several others are just gearing up for a return. Among them are Repent, Harlan's Holiday, Buddha, and Booklet.

Repent had the first serious work of his return Sunday morning, breezing three furlongs in 37.20.

Trainer Ken McPeek said Repent is further along than he had planned.

"He was very aggressive the other morning," said McPeek.

Repent was among the Kentucky Derby favorites last winter before being sidelined with a chip in his left ankle. He was back galloping in May but had another setback and did not return to serious training until last month.

McPeek mentioned the Aug. 24 Travers here and the Sept. 2 Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park as possible return spots for Repent.

"We'll nominate him to the Travers and see how he comes along," said McPeek. "Obviously it's pretty ambitious to run him a mile and one-quarter in a race like that without a prep, and it's more likely we'll bring him back in the Pennsylvania Derby, but we'll just wait and see how loud he talks to me over the next few weeks before making a final decision. The Travers would be nice but the Breeders' Cup is our ultimate goal this fall."

The Pennsylvania Derby, or the Sept. 14 Jerome at Belmont, could also be the starting point for Harlan's Holiday, who hasn't raced since finishing fourth in the Preakness and was transferred from McPeek's barn to Todd Pletcher's during the first week of June. Harlan's Holiday worked three furlongs in 39.80 seconds here Tuesday.

"I just wanted to get a little feel for where we were with him this morning," said Pletcher on Tuesday. "Right now the Travers is not on the schedule. I'd say we'd be more on track for either the Pennsylvania Derby or the Jerome. The Breeders' Cup Classic is probably our major consideration, and if all went well I'd be looking at a two-race plan leading up to the Cup."

Booklet, who won the Holy Bull and the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, recently returned to training with John and Donna Ward. He finished 12th in the Preakness in his last start.

"He was rushed a bit this winter and spring and just needed a little break," said Donna Ward. "Right now we have no definite plans. He'll tell us what the plans will be as he goes along. He gave us a good run earlier in the year and we expect to get the same thing from him when he returns for the last part of the season."

Buddha, who has been sidelined by injury since winning the Wood Memorial in April, is back galloping for trainer H. James Bond.

"I'm just waiting for word from the doctor to do some speed work with him," said Bond. "He could be ready to work within the next couple of days, although there's no way he'll even be nominated for the Travers. I have no plans for him at the moment. Let's just say he'll be nominated everywhere and will show up somewhere. The last two times I picked out a race he didn't make either, so I'm not going to do that again."

Blinkers for Stephentown

One 3-year-old who will run Saturday in the Jim Dandy, and perhaps later this month in the Travers, is Stephentown, whose accomplishments have not lived up to his early reputation.

"He's got all the talent in the world, but he's still got to take that next step and show he belongs in the Travers," his trainer, Tony Reinstedler, said Tuesday morning. "He's got to prove he's that caliber. If he ever gets himself straightened out and runs to his ability, he's as good as anything around."

Stephentown will run in blinkers for the first time in the Jim Dandy, with Craig Perret aboard.

"Hopefully the blinkers will keep him a little more focused," said Reinstedler.

Trainer and jockey wed

Trainer Chuck Simon and former jockey Paula Keim were married Saturday, but there is no time for a honeymoon during the Saratoga meet.

"We'll take our honeymoon this December at Calder," said Simon.

Simon could have a busy weekend, with Strength and Honor a potential starter in Saturday's $150,000 Amsterdam Stakes and Impressionist an outside possibility for the Whitney.

Strength and Honor comes off a pair of victories in Kentucky, and Impressionist won a second-level allowance race at Monmouth in his last start.

"I'd rather get one more race into Strength and Honor and run him in the King's Bishop [Aug. 24] than throw him to the wolves too early, but if the Amsterdam winds up a five-horse field we'll run," said Simon. "And if the Whitney should come up a three-horse field at the last minute, I'll be number four."