05/29/2007 12:00AM

Win puts Corinithian in elite class


LAS VEGAS - When will they take Corinthian seriously? It was hardly a surprise that he won the Metropolitan Handicap, but it was a surprise (actually, a delightful surprise to those who bet him) that he paid $21.60. Corinthian is simply among the best older runners in the country.

Corinthian showed his quality crossing the finish line first in last year's Fountain of Youth Stakes, but his immaturity and erratic behavior cost him the victory as he was disqualified to third. Training for the Triple Crown, he developed a hairline fracture that required time off but not surgery. When he returned at Saratoga in late July, he had a persistent skin rash and finished a lackluster third.

Trainer Jimmy Jerkens decided to give him plenty of time off, and when he returned to the races this past February at Gulfstream, he was simply dazzling, winning an optional claiming allowance by 9 1/2 lengths, leaving last year's Belmont Stakes winner, Jazil, in his wake. To see Corinthian ontrack warming up for that victory, it was clear this was a new and imposing version of the jittery 3-year-old seen the year before.

Corinthian garnered his first added-money event in winning the Gulfstream Park Handicap over the hard-knocking Hesanoldsalt, but lost all chance in his next start, the Excelsior Handicap, when he reared straight up in the air as the gates opened. Drawing a line through that non-effort, Corinthian was certainly worthy of attention in the Met Mile, and had been training as well as ever for the race.

Corinthian has now won 5 of 9 starts, with one second and a third, and the Met is his most important victory. As good as he was in winning the Met, he may be better at middle distances, and prestigious Grade 1 races such as the nine-furlong Whitney and Woodward handicaps loom as he heads for his ultimate goal, the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Corinthian's strong family tree

In my column last week, I wrote that a victory in the Met Mile by Corinthian - more than any of his opponents - would immediately stamp him as an attractive stallion. By the very popular and versatile Pulpit (one of A.P. Indy's most successful sons at stud), he is out of the unraced Easy Goer mare Multiply and is a half-brother to stakes winner Desert Hero (Sea Hero) and the promising 3-year-old Vitruvius (E Dubai), who is undefeated in two starts. In addition to the Pulpit-A.P. Indy-Seattle Slew sire line on top, Corinthian's first four dams are by Easy Goer, Spectacular Bid, Nijinsky II, and Forli. He also descends in direct tail-female line (dam, dam's dam, dam's granddam, etc.) from Rough Shod II, one of racing's blue hens and one of the most important foundation mares of the last century. She produced Moccasin, an undefeated champion at 2 and the only filly ever to be voted co-Horse of the Year (in 1965, along with Roman Brother). In addition, males descending from Rough Shod II became prominent stallions and include Nureyev, Sadler's Wells, Apalachee, Thatch, Stormy Atlantic, King Pellinore, Lt. Stevens, Ridan, Jade Robbery, and Numerous.

Political Force joins top ranks, too

Running a big race in the Met at 24-1 to be second to Corinthian was Political Force, a well-bred 4-year-old son of Unbridled's Song out of multiple stakes winner Glitter Woman (Glitterman), a half-sister to stakes winner Unbridled Elaine (Unbridled's Song), whose biggest win came in the 2002 Breeders' Cup Distaff. Political Force showed potential at 2, finishing second in the Nashua Stakes behind Bluegrass Cat, but was on the shelf for nine months after that race, and his four races at 3 were disappointing considering his juvenile form.

Like Corinthian, Political Force has blossomed as an older runner. He won his first two starts this year, was third in the Skip Away Handicap when he was just one length behind A.P. Arrow and Rehoboth, and finished second in the Westchester Handicap, one length behind the highly regarded Utopia, but was disqualified to third for lugging in. With a strong rally in the Met, his best effort to date, Political Force joins an impressive roster of older runners, topped by last year's Horse of the Year Invasor.

In addition to Invasor, the older division includes Corinthian, Discreet Cat, Lava Man, Lawyer Ron, Master Command, Magna Graduate, Sweetnorthernsaint, and Utopia. All (except for Lava Man, who will only race in California) could eventually clash with this year's best 3-year-olds - Street Sense, Curlin, and Hard Spun - in what would be a memorable Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27.