05/31/2001 12:00AM

Williams News the choice on turf

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Tom Amoss might be agonizing unnecessarily, but that's what top trainers tend to do. Amoss is concerned that 1 3/8 miles might be a tad too short for Williams News, the topweight and likely favorite in the $100,000 Louisville Handicap.

"A mile and a half is his perfect distance," said Amoss. "It seems like whenever he goes shorter, his punch isn't quite as effective."

Yet before the Louisville 'Cap is run Saturday at Churchill Downs, many horseplayers will bet their hard-earned dollars that Amoss is merely splitting hairs. Williams News, who has earned more than $800,000, appears to be the class of the race, which drew seven seasoned turf veterans. A 6-year-old gelded son of Alleged, Williams News captured the Grade 3 Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland in his last start April 25.

"He's become a more settled horse this year," said Amoss. "That's the case with most of the Allegeds. He's quieter and better."

Perhaps the top threat to Williams News is Three Wonders, trained by Elliott Walden. A Storm Cat 4-year-old, Three Wonders has been sharp in recent starts, and the fact Walden was able to secure the services of Pat Day for Three Wonders while Walden's veteran turf marathoner Royal Strand stays in the barn appears to be a positive sign.

Three Wonders gets in as one of the co-lowweights at 111 pounds for Walden, who won the Louisville three straight years (1994-96).

From the hedge, the entire cast consists of Profit Option, 112 pounds, Lonnie Meche to ride; Williams News, 117, Robby Albarado; Gritty Sandie, 115, Jean Luc Samyn; Hesiode, 113, Donnie Meche; With Anticipation, 111, Jon Court; Air Rocket, 111, Calvin Borel; and Three Wonders, 111, Day.

Hesiode is the unknown quantity. A French-bred 4-year-old, he last raced in the prestigious Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October, finishing ninth. Gary Tanaka, whose far-flung stable often ships horses back and forth across oceans, has sent the colt to trainer Steve Asmussen.

The Louisville, which dates to 1895, was run on the main track until being switched to turf in 1987. The race was won three straight years by Chorwon (1997-99), who tried for a record fourth victory last year but finished fifth behind the victorious Buff.

The Louisville is the ninth of 10 races on a Saturday card that also includes four allowance races. First post is 12:40 p.m.