09/03/2002 11:00PM

Woodward field small and unstable

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Less than 24 hours before entries were to close for Saturday's $500,000 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park, the field for the nine-furlong race was very much in flux.

Despite its Grade 1 status and weight-for-age conditions, only three horses were considered definite as of Thursday morning: Lido Palace, the defending Woodward winner; Express Tour, last year's Jerome Handicap winner; and Sherpa Guide, a New York-bred who has won three consecutive races.

An hour after glancing at the past performances of the potential field, trainer Mark Hennig informed stakes coordinator Andrew Byrnes that Cat's at Home, upset winner of the Philip Iselin Handicap on Aug. 18, is likely to run.

The remainder of the field could be filled out from among the following horses: Balto Star, who is more likely to run in the Man o' War on Saturday's card; Baseball Champion, an underachiever from the Phipps Stable; Dollar Bill, who already shipped from Saratoga to Kentucky; Bowman's Band, the Iselin runner-up; Gander, third in the 2000 Woodward; and Tempest Fugit, the Oceanport Handicap winner, who would only run if he was the fifth horse.

After Gander unseated jockey Mike Smith and ran around Saratoga's main track riderless in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup on Aug. 17, trainer John Terranova said he would most likely try for a repeat in the Meadowlands Cup with his gray New York-bred gelding. Upon hearing that the Woodward field is light and following a satisfactory workout by Gander on Monday, Terranova is having second thoughts.

"We might put him in there," Terranova said from Saratoga. "It doesn't sound like it's a real, real strong field other than Lido Palace. I'm still 50-50 [to run], but there's still a good chance you'll see his name in there."

Michael Matz said the Meadowlands Cup, to be run on Oct. 4, was his initial goal for Bowman's Band, but he too is considering the Woodward.

Potentially big weekend for Bush

Tom Bush has made the most out of his 10-horse stable, winning races at 26-percent clip this year. This weekend, he shoots for stakes victories with a pair of talented New York-bred geldings, Private Enterprise and Sherpa Guide.

Getting 10 pounds from Say Florida Sandy, Private Enterprise is a live price play in Friday's $75,000 General Douglas MacArthur Handicap at seven furlongs. Away from the races for 18 months because of a knee chip and chronic foot problems, Private Enterprise has won 2 of 3 starts this year, including an eight-length score in a second-level statebred allowance race on Aug. 10 at Saratoga.

"The horse has finally gotten sounder. He's always been a horse that had a lot of ability," Bush said. "I'm hoping he can relax in there because there's going to be real speed in the race and it'll be the first time he's faced real speed."

With Private Enterprise to run in the MacArthur, Bush said one of the few spots he has to run Sherpa Guide is Saturday's Woodward. Sherpa Guide, a 4-year-old son of Ends Well, won a pair of open company allowance races in the spring and the restricted Evan Shipman Handicap on closing day of the Belmont summer meet.

Sherpa Guide was entered in an allowance race at Saratoga, but was scratched when the track came up muddy. Bush believes the key to Sherpa Guide's newfound success is twofold: "I felt like I did a terrible job running him too much when he was a young horse," Bush said. "I made up my mind I would give him space between his races. That and certainly taking him off the pace has made a big difference."

Bush knows Sherpa Guide will be a longshot in the Woodward, but said he would be content with getting a piece of it.

Balto Star likely for Man o' War

Trainer Todd Pletcher said he has not ruled out running Balto Star in Saturday's Woodward, but said he is leaning more toward running in the Man o' War at 1 3/8 miles on turf.

Pletcher said by running Balto Star in the Man o' War, it would enable him to "find out where I am" in regards to the Breeders' Cup Turf. Balto Star has shown an affinity for both dirt and turf, but is coming off a monster win in a classified allowance turf race at Saratoga on Aug. 11 in which his final time of 1:39.17 for 1 1/16 miles, was .37 of a second off the Mellon turf course record set by Fourstardave in 1991.

"I thought he ran a big race. He was one-fifth off the track record, and he rated," Pletcher said. "Basically, he's 2 for 3 on the turf now and his one loss was when he went 44-and-change with City Zip in the Breeders' Cup Mile."

Monday, Balto Star worked six furlongs in 1:14 over Saratoga's training turf course.

Wednesday, With Anticipation, last year's Man o' War winner and this year's United Nations and Sword Dancer victor, worked five furlongs in 1:03.14 over Saratoga's main track in preparation for the Man o' War.

Also expected to run in the weight-for-age race are Blazing Fury, Craigsteel, Lord Flasheart, Man From Wicklow, Regal Dynasty, Skipping, Tobougg, and possibly Whitmore's Conn.

Velazquez to ride Bella Bellucci

With Jerry Bailey opting to serve his seven-day careless riding suspension this week, John Velazquez has picked up the mount on Bella Bellucci for Saturday's Grade 1, $250,000 Gazelle Handicap for 3-year-old fillies.

Velazquez becomes the fourth jockey to ride Bella Bellucci, who has won 5 of 7 career starts. "One doesn't want to be changing riders every time, but it's always been circumstantial," trainer Neil Drysdale said.

Bella Bellucci scratched out of the Alabama Stakes on Aug. 17 because of the wet track conditions. It was a surface similar to that in the Acorn, where Bella Bellucci ran third and sustained a pulled back muscle.

"Knowing the Gazelle was here, it wasn't such a setback missing the Alabama," Drysdale said. "The timing of these races takes you into the Breeders' Cup."

Drysdale hopes to use the Gazelle and the Grade 1 Beldame on Oct. 5 as stepping-stones to the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Bella Bellucci was assigned 118 pounds for the Gazelle. She will face Take Charge Lady (121), Imperial Gesture (117), Nonsuch Bay (117), Magic Storm (116), Lost at Sea (115), and Jaramar Rain (114).

Wonder Again readies for Garden City

Wonder Again, authoritative winner of the Grade 2 Lake Placid Handicap, worked four furlongs Tuesday in 50.09 seconds at Belmont in preparation for Sunday's Grade 1 Garden City Breeders' Cup Handicap.

"We didn't want to overdo it with her, we just wanted to let her stretch her legs," trainer Jimmy Toner said. "She finished up good the last furlong."

While Toner acknowledged that Wonder Again had a relatively easy race in the Lake Placid, "the fact of the matter is it was still an effort, and I didn't want to do too much in between races," Toner said.

Wonder Again picked up a whopping five pounds from her last race and will carry co-highweight of 119 pounds along with Distant Valley, Nunatall, Riskaverse, and Spring Star. Others expected to run include Kithira (117), Mariensky (117), Cyclorama (116), and Pertusiane (115). April Green (115) is a possibility.

Toner said he does not plan on pointing Wonder Again to the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, saying his goals for this year are the Garden City and the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup on Oct. 12 at Keeneland.