04/24/2002 11:00PM

With Ability flourishes in new role as a router

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CHICAGO - Two New Yorkers were supposed to have started in Sunday's Sixty Sails Handicap at Sportsman's Park, but with the defection Thursday of Quiet Lake, now there is one. The one, however, may be enough.

With Ability nearly went to the breeding shed this winter after a bad race in an Aqueduct sprint stakes. Given one more chance, in a race around two turns, With Ability didn't just put her broodmare career on hold, she launched a new career as a route horse and produced an easy Grade 3 win last month.

With Ability came back from the brink of life on a farm, but that was after she had come back from serious injuries. "She's lucky to be here in more ways than one," trainer Mark Hennig said.

A speedy, stakes-winning 2-year-old - unusual for a horse by the long-winded sire A.P. Indy - With Ability disappeared in the middle of her juvenile campaign and was away for seven months with a fractured leg. She made four starts as a 3-year-old, but in the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes suffered a serious eye injury that required surgery and another layoff.

Hennig and owner Edward Evans had other top sprinting fillies in Florida over the winter, so With Ability stayed behind in New York to try to win a sprint stakes. She failed badly in the Interborough Handicap in January, which was when Evans considered putting an end to her racing career.

"I've always thought a lot of her," Hennig said. "We almost bred her, but I suggested we try her around two turns at least one time."

The route experiment, in a third-level allowance race Feb. 8, was a rousing success. With Ability won by almost 10 lengths, then, after finishing second in a higher-class allowance, sped to a clear lead and scored in the Grade 3 Next Move by more than five lengths.

With that, With Ability earned the first true road trip of her career. She was flown from Hennig's New York base to Churchill Downs, and will van to Sportsman's just before the $300,000 Sixty Sails. "She seemed to adapt when we shipped her from Belmont to Aqueduct to race," Hennig said. "I think she'll be fine."

The absence of Quiet Lake means there's one less pace element With Ability must deal with in the nine-furlong Sixty Sails. The likely favorite, Pompeii, tops the six other fillies and mares entered.

* Through Tuesday's racing, both jockey Larry Sterling and trainer Mike Reavis had built insurmountable leads in the standings for the meet. Sterling led Alfredo Juarez Jr. by 49 to 28 wins, while Reavis had 30 wins to Frank Kirby's 15.