06/06/2001 12:00AM

Acorn winner can fill the filly void


ELMONT, N.Y. - The career-ending injury to Golden Ballet has created a need for a new force in the 3-year-old filly division.

There are a number of would-be candidates in Friday's Grade 1 $200,000 Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park. The Acorn is the first leg of New York's Triple Crown for fillies, which also includes the Mother Goose Stakes on June 30 and the Coaching Club American Oaks on July 21.

The Acorn is also the first leg of the Acorn-Belmont Stakes double wager, which requires bettors to correctly select the winner of the Acorn and Saturday's Belmont Stakes. The Acorn will run as race 7 on a nine-race program that gets underway at 3:05 p.m. Eastern. Post time for the Acorn is 6:14 and it can been seen live on ESPN2 (5:30-6:30).

While the Acorn field includes defending 2-year-old filly champion Caressing and graded stakes winners Latour and Real Cozzy, it is a pair of less accomplished fillies that could steal the show.

Unbridled Elaine, a winner of three consecutive races, and Victory Ride, unbeaten in two career starts, could be the ones to beat in the one-turn mile race.

Unbridled Elaine, a mammoth gray daughter of Unbridled's Song, made a triumphant return to the races on May 18, taking a second-level allowance race at Churchill Downs by 1 1/4 lengths. She broke slowly and then raced between horses before drawing clear late. It was her first race in seven months, following surgery to remove a chip from her left hind ankle.

Although Unbridled Elaine will have to jump from 6 1/2 furlongs to a mile, trainer Dallas Stewart is confident his filly will handle it. She won the Pocahontas Stakes, a one-turn mile race at Churchill Downs, last Nov. 3. Gary Stevens will ride from post 5.

"She's a natural distance horse," Stewart said. "Sprinting is not her best thing. [Her jockey] said she finished the race good, he said she could have went a mile that day. It's a big step up, she's never run in a graded-stakes before."

Victory Ride is another horse taking a big jump in class. A daughter of Seeking the Gold, she is 2 for 2 and has earned eye-catching Beyer Speed Figure of 108 and 101 in those two starts, which she won by a combined 21 1/4 lengths.

"I had to go this direction with her," said Rusty Arnold, who trains the filly for Louis and G. Watts Humphrey. "She has shown she has the ability now we have to see if she has the seasoning."

Edgar Prado becomes the third rider for Victory Ride in as many starts. Arnold said Pat Day, who rode Victory Ride in her maiden win, opted to ride Caressing in the Acorn.

"Obviously, he thinks she's better," Arnold said. "But to be honest, I wouldn't trade places with anybody."

Day was aboard Caressing when she made a triumphant return to the races in last month's Grade 3 La Troienne Stakes. She was last through the opening half-mile and despite racing 10 wide into the stretch she won by a length. It was her first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last November.

"I really think in my mind she's a better two-turn horse," trainer David Vance said. "For her to do her best this year she must run around one turn in New York at least three times."

Vance was referring to the Acorn, the Mother Goose, and the Breeder's Cup Distaff in the fall.

While Flute, the Kentucky Oaks winner, sits this one out, Real Cozzy, the Oaks runner-up, will run in the Acorn. Winner of the Grade 2 Fantasy Stakes, Real Cozzy is a late-running sort who may be at the mercy of the pace.

The pace should be swift with the likes of With Ability, Honey Eyed, and Forest Secrets likely challenging Victory Ride on the front end. Latour, who finished sixth in the Kentucky Oaks, may be forced to use her speed after drawing the rail.