Babae Returns in Aqueduct's Athenia Handicap

Joseph Platt Jr.'s Babae, the likely favorite for Saturday's $100,000 Athenia Handicap (gr. III) for fillies and mares, is poised to capture back-to-back runnings of the 1 1/6-mile turf feature at Aqueduct.

Since coming to the United States from her native Chile in early 2000, Babae has proven to be one of the more consistent runners in her division. The 6-year-old mare is enjoying the best year of her career with three wins from six starts.

In the three times Babae went down in defeat this year, there were reasonable explanations for each loss. When she was third in the Beaugay, she was making her first start in about six months. She finished a close
fourth in the Diana (gr. II) running against better competition. She fell victim to poor racing luck in a Saratoga allowance.

Unraced since winning the Violet (gr. III) by three lengths at The Meadowlands Sept. 20, Babae has been keeping fit with a powerful work tab on the main track. On Oct. 23, she drilled five furlongs in :59 1/5; Wednesday, she was the only horse timed in the slop on Belmont's main track, going three furlongs around the "dogs," in :39 1/5, breezing.

"Bringing her in fresh will not be a problem," trainer Frank Alexander said. "She really works well on the dirt.

"She never runs a bad race," Alexander said. "The only time she hasn't run well is when the distance wasn't right for her."

The Athenia distance should fit Babae just fine. Three of her last four wins are at a mile and a sixteenth.

Regular rider Jorge Chavez will be back aboard Babae, the 120-pound Athenia highweight.

Trainer Christophe Clement will saddle a pair of runners for the Athenia. Lael Stables' Love N' Kiss S. rides a two-race win streak into this weekend. Strawberry Blonde makes her second start in America.

After winning the Pebbles last October, Love N' Kiss S. suffered an injury and needed time off.

"She had a small fracture in a hind leg, but since we've brought her back, every race has been better than the last one," Clement said.

Love N' Kiss S. was favored in both recent victories, the last one an off-the-pace win going seven furlongs on yielding turf.

Strawberry Blonde was winless in five 2002 European starts before coming to the U.S. earlier in the year. She rallied from well back to get up by three-quarters of a length in a third-level allowance at Belmont
Oct. 6.

"She's been doing very well and I liked her last race," Clement said of Strawberry Blonde. "The logical step is to try stakes with her now."

Jose Santos will ride Love N' Kiss S. while Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey is aboard Strawberry Blonde.

Stronach Stable's Golden Corona ran well over Aqueduct's turf course earlier in the year, taking a $55,000 allowance. She was second in the Beaugay defeating Babae by a nose.

But Golden Corona has disappointed of late, finishing last in the Glens Falls and a poor third as the 7-5 favorite in a Belmont allowance Sept. 28. Both of those starts came over courses labeled "yielding" which might be what she gets Saturday.
$100,000 Athenia Handicap (gr. IIIT), 1 1/16 mile on turf, fillies and mares
1 High Lady, Heberto Castillo Jr., 113
2 Strawberry Blonde, Jerry Bailey, 116
3 Polygreen, Gavy Bonilla, 115
4 Silver Rail, John Velazquez, 112
5 Super Blue, Edgar Prado, 113
6 Shooting Party, Shaun Bridgmohan, 112
7 Love N' Kiss S., Jose Santos, 115
8 Babae, Jorge Chavez, 120
9 Decencia, Javier Castellano, 113
10 Media Access, Horacio Karamanos, 113
11 Golden Corona, Richard Migliore, 114
12 New Economy, Mike Luzzi, 114
Also Eligible
13 Brandala, Shaun Bridgmohan, 112
14 Vespers, John Velazquez, 112
15 Sparkling Ava, Jean-Luc Samyn, 110
Main Track Only
16 Unrestrained, No rider, 120

Super Blue will race without blinkers.