02/27/2007 12:00AM

Amandatude tunes up for Grade 1

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Amandatude could get an ideal pace setup in Thursday's featured ninth race at Oaklawn Park, a $75,000 optional claimer for fillies and mares expected to serve as her steppingstone to the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap here April 7.

The ninth race is one of three high-end offerings on the card. The fifth is a conditioned allowance for fillies and mares led by Shytoe Lafeet, and the 10th is an optional claimer for sprinters that drew Bengal Lore. He is making his first start since winning a first-level allowance at Santa Anita in February 2006.

Amandatude will face seven others in her optional claimer, to be run at 1 1/16 miles. Among her chief rivals are front-runners Aubee's Amali, who is seeking her third straight win; Beat the Band, second at this level in her last start; and No Better Chance, a winner of four of her last five.

"There are three horses in there that look like they all kind of want the front end, which is fine with us," said Tim Ritchey, who trains Amandatude. "My filly will sit behind a little bit, just off the pace and stalk them."

Amandatude is a stakes winner who last year finished second to Adieu in the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks, and second to India in the Grade 2 Fitz Dixon Cotillion Breeders' Cup at Philadelphia Park. In her most recent start, she was third in an optional claimer at Oaklawn. The one-mile race was her first start since the Cotillion on Oct. 7, and it went in a strong time of 1:38.20.

"She got beat a length and was in a position to win the race, but I think it was just a little too much off the layoff," said Ritchey. "She should certainly move forward."

Amandatude, who will break from post 2 under Stewart Elliott, has long been a candidate for the Apple Blossom.

"As long as we get a good building race [Thursday], which I think we will, then I'll give her a little time and just train her up to that race," Ritchey said. "That's the race we brought her here for."

Aubee's Amali streaks into the ninth off two strong wins, one in a 6 1/2-furlong optional claimer at Turfway Park, and the other at 1o1/16 miles here Jan. 19. Trainer Sonny Wigginton has given the mount to Joe Johnson.

Bengal Lore earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 104 last out, and will be making his first start for trainer John Servis.