10/01/2005 12:00AM

Ashado holds on in Beldame

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Ashado and jockey John Velazquez charge down the stretch en route to a half-length win in the Grade 1 Beldame.

ELMONT, N.Y. - For the second time this year, Ashado overcame doubts to prove that she's still the No. 1 mare in racing.

Bouncing back from the worst performance of her career in the Personal Ensign Handicap, Ashado held off a late surge from Happy Ticket to win Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 by a half-length at Belmont Park. Happy Ticket finished second, 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Society Selection.

Sweet Symphony finished fourth as she suffered her first career defeat. Personal Legend, Dream of Summer, and Island Sand completed the order of finish.

The first-place prize of $450,000 pushed Ashado's career earnings to $3,711,440, making her the second highest money-earning female in North American history. Ashado, who has won 12 of 20 starts, could eclipse Azeri's record of $4,079,820 with a first- or second-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Distaff here on Oct. 29. That will be Ashado's last race.

"I think you've got to say now she's one of the top mares maybe of all time," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "This puts her earnings very high on the list. She's getting up into almost uncharted waters. When you get one this good and they've had such a good career, you want to see them finish up on a winning note, so it's very satisfying for our organization."

Ashado, last year's 3-year-old champion who lost her first two starts this year before winning the Ogden Phipps and Go for Wand handicaps, got the trip her connections hoped for in the Beldame. Dream of Summer, under Corey Nakatani, went for the lead and set modest fractions of 24.50 and 47.64 seconds with Ashado, under John Velazquez, within a half-length. Around the turn, Ashado put a head in front of Dream of Summer, and maintained a short lead turning for home.

Happy Ticket and Society Selection looked poised to pounce in the stretch, but Society Selection leveled off and Happy Ticket couldn't get to Ashado in the final yards.

"What I wanted to do was speed away from them and try to make them run a little bit," Velazquez said. "But she had a so-so race last time out, so she might have got [tired] a bit down the lane."

Ashado, owned by the Starlight Stable of Jack and Laurie Wolf, Paul Saylor, and Johns Martin, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.88 and returned $5.40 as the favorite.

Andrew Leggio Jr., the trainer of Happy Ticket, said his filly "proved herself here" and will be pointed to the Breeders' Cup Distaff.