09/29/2005 12:00AM

Ashado has something to prove off last dud


ELMONT, N.Y. - A champion filly who has won 11 of 19 starts and banked more than $3.2 million should have nothing left to prove. But as Ashado attempts to become a repeat winner in the Breeders' Cup Distaff later this month, she has to prove that her last race, a fourth-place finish in the Personal Ensign Handicap, was an aberration.

And Ashado will have to begin proving it against the best field she has faced all year in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park. Ashado will face five other Grade 1 winners, including the potential heir to Ashado's 3-year-old throne, Sweet Symphony, in the Beldame, run at 1 1/8-miles over the main track.

has been in this position before. After two losses to begin her 4-year-old season, the critics were out in force. Ashado answered them with a win in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap by three lengths over this track in June. She followed that with the best performance of her career, winning the Grade 1 Go for Wand by 9 1/2 lengths at Saratoga.

Four weeks later, however, she was beaten 14 3/4 lengths when dead-heating for fourth in the Personal Ensign. She later was found to have a bruised foot, according to trainer Todd Pletcher.

Ashado has bounced back with a series of solid workouts at Belmont, where Ashado has 3 wins from 5 starts.

"I thought she probably trained up to the Ogden Phipps as well as she's ever trained,'' Pletcher said. "I think she's close to that, but I don't know if I've ever seen her as good as she was entering that race.''

Though Ashado won the Phipps in front-running fashion, Pletcher prefers Ashado to have a target to run at. Dream of Summer won the Apple Blossom in April - defeating Ashado - in gate-to-wire fashion. Dream of Summer got caught up in a speed duel when fourth in a seven-furlong California-bred stakes. She came back to win the Gardenia Handicap from off the pace.

Juan Garcia, the trainer of Dream of Summer, said he would prefer his filly to "sit behind the speed.''

is the only 3-year-old in the field, but 3-year-olds have won 12 of the last 21 Beldames. Sweet Symphony, a daughter of A.P. Indy, is undefeated in four starts and comes off a victory in the Alabama. To date, Sweet Symphony has run as fast as she has had to. Her connections, trainer Bill Mott and jockey Jerry Bailey, believe she can run faster.

"She's never disappointed us yet,'' Mott said. "She's never had just a dream trip. She seems like she's had to run them down off a slow pace. Ashado, Society Selection, and Island Sand, if they kick in, they look like the kind that can get from point A to point B in a hurry and make it tough on you.''

While the Beldame figures to define the favorite for the Breeders' Cup Distaff, it could be even more important for Sweet Symphony as far as divisional honors are concerned.

"A win here could stamp you as 3-year-old [filly] champion,'' Mott said.

Society Selection could offer value in this competitive field. Society Selection needs things to go her way, but with her drawn nicely on the outside, they possibly could. Society Selection was bogged down on the inside and rallied strongly when second behind loose-on-the-lead Stellar Jayne in the Ruffian. She finished second to Sightseek in this race last year, and her lone win this year came in the Grade 2 Shuvee here.

Happy Ticket is 10 for 11 and comes off a powerful victory in the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga. This will be her first try at 1 1/8 miles, and she may be compromised if the pace isn't fast.

Island Sand won the Grade 1 Acorn here as a 3-year-old. Personal Legend finished second in the Personal Ensign but is another who benefits from a fast pace.

* In Saturday's second race, Ashado's 2-year-old full brother, Sunriver, makes his debut. Sunriver, also trained by Pletcher, is owned and bred by Aaron and Marie Jones. Sunriver takes on Miner's Lamp, a half-brother to Grand Slam, in the 6 1/2-furlong race.

The field

Purse: $750,000; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 1

1Sweet SymphonyJ. Bailey1205-2
2Island SandT. Thompson12312-1
3Happy TicketV. Espinoza1238-1
4Dream of SummerC. Nakatani1238-1
5Personal Legend E. Prado12312-1
6AshadoJ. Velazquez1237-5
7Society SelectionJ. Castellano1234-1

* Odds by Art Gropper
* Television: Saturday, 4-6 p.m. (Eastern), ESPN