08/21/2001 11:00PM

Who will be the Unshaded of 2001?


I learned a valuable, and costly, lesson when Unshaded won last year's Travers Stakes. I learned that a race for $400,000 (the Jim Dandy) can be used as a prep for a $1,000,000 race. And I learned that a patient, sharply focused trainer like Carl Nafzger can prepare a horse to produce a peak effort on one particular day. And he can get that horse to run the race of his life.

So, is there an Unshaded lurking in tomorrow's Travers field?

Perhaps it's Dollar Bill. After all, his connections have clearly been pointing specifically for this race. In fact, Dollar Bill has not run at all since the Belmont Stakes back in early June, and he will be trying to win the 1 1/4-mile Travers with only workouts as a foundation. It seems a daunting task.

While Dollar Bill could potentially improve on the Beyer Speed Figures of 102 and 105 he ran in the spring, when his tough trips became legendary, it is hard to imagine that he can win this race without a Jim Dandy-like prep. And his sluggish, late-grinding style might not fit the pace scenario of this year's Travers.

That pace should be dictated by one horse: E Dubai. Like Dollar Bill, he has also been pointed carefully and methodically for the Travers, since he last raced on July 8. And he comes with two big recommendations: He has early speed in a relatively paceless race, and he has strong recent Beyer Figures (107-106-106) earned under duress. If E Dubai can relax at all in this race, and avoid the wild fractions he endured in his battles with Hero's Tribute in both the Dwyer and the Peter Pan, he could be tough to catch - even with the stretch-out to 1 1/4 miles.

E Dubai also is in the right sort of field, since none of the front-runners among this year's 3-year-olds (Balto Star, Keats, Hero's Tribute) will be there to challenge his speed in the Travers. If he can control this race from start to finish, he could improve dramatically on his already impressive Beyer Figures. With more maturity and less pressure up front, E Dubai could reach the best of Point Given's Beyers in the 110-114 range. That should be good enough to win.

As for the rest of the field, first we have Scorpion - surprise winner of the Jim Dandy three weeks ago. Now, it could hardly be said that Scorpion has been pointed for the Travers. In fact, if Unshaded represents the thesis of careful, focused preparation for a specific time and place, then Scorpion represents the antithesis: He comes from the diametrically opposed camp of "Just run him anywhere - you might get lucky." And Scorpion did indeed get lucky in the Jim Dandy. The favorites failed to run, and he had a perfect trip every step of the way. He is not likely to get that lucky a second time.

Two more runners come out of the Jim Dandy. Free of Love is being wheeled right back after his strong second-place finish. But that day he controlled a fairly moderate pace, and, while he probably does not need the lead in order to run well, tomorrow he will have to chase a high-quality, speedy E Dubai. That will be a much tougher situation for him.

A P Valentine is an even more dubious proposition. He had no excuse for his very poor effort in the Jim Dandy, and a sharp turnaround doesn't seem likely at this point.

There are a few wild cards:

* Volponi. He will be the top figure in the Travers, but he earned that 110 Beyer in a nonwinners-of-one allowance race. In previous races he has shown more class than that in his stakes efforts on the turf. Still, his connections are clearly rolling the dice here. And he could bounce under the kind of relentless pressure you just don't encounter in an ordinary allowance race.

* Harrisand. He has never raced on the dirt, and his turf races - both in France and America - have been distinctly uninspired. He certainly can handle 1 1/4 miles. But nobody would pay any attention at all to this horse if he were not trained by Bobby Frankel. While Frankel has been winning stakes by the handful from coast to coast this summer, a win by Harrisand would clearly belong in the miracle-working category.

Finally, there's Point Given. According to Bob Baffert, he is training great. He's the best horse in the race. And he's coming off a gutsy win in the Haskell, where he overcame a poorly judged ride and a wide trip. Will he be at his best in the Travers?

Perhaps not. Perhaps his foot problems will hinder him. Perhaps his difficult struggle coming off a layoff in the Haskell took something out of him. Perhaps his rider will continue to show indecision about whether he's riding a closer or a speed horse. Perhaps his Beyer of 106 in the Haskell indicates a slight regression in form.

There are enough doubts to signal caution. If Point Given is not at his best, then one horse should benefit the most: E Dubai. Point Given just might not be able to run him down.

There is one problem, however. Too many handicappers are picking E Dubai. And not only is Jerry Bailey riding - which won't help the price - but Bailey has gone out of his way to call E Dubai "probably as nice a 3-year-old that's come to this country." The Godolphin runner is in danger of becoming M.O.T.O. That's short for Master Of The Obvious. And, as we all know, it's never that obvious. That's another lesson I learned from Unshaded.