08/11/2001 12:00AM

Asher wins game of catch-me-if-you-can in Gardenia


HENDERSON, Ky. - Asher led every step of the way Saturday, scoring by two lengths in the $200,000 Gardenia Stakes, the annual highlight of the Ellis Park meet.

Ridden by Mark Guidry, who was in from Saratoga, Asher paid $7 as third choice in the Grade 3 Gardenia. Zenith, an East Coast invader, closed steadily to finish second, a half-length before the 9-5 second choice, Royal Fair.

Rose of Zollern, the 119-pound topweight and 8-5 favorite in a field of eight fillies and mares, was a non-threatening fifth.

Asher, a gray 4-year-old by Mountain Cat, finished 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.16 over a muddy track. After breaking sharply from post 3, she relaxed when setting fractions of 23.23 seconds, 46.32, and 1:10.80. Royal Fair moved to threaten in the far turn, but Guidry let out a notch, allowing Asher to draw off to her seventh and richest victory from 25 lifetime starts.

"I was a little worried about how fast she was going early, but up the backstretch, she came back to me," said Guidry.

Asher is owned by Peppertree Farm, whose owner, James Mayer, died last spring. Asher, who won her maiden at 2 at Ellis, "has always shown a fondness for the surface," said winning trainer Ron Moquett.

The 3-5 exacta paid $80 and the 3-5-1 trifecta paid $263.80.

The estimated ontrack attendance was 5,500.

* Earlier Saturday, Miss Seffens ($3.80) rolled to an easy victory in the $103,300 Ellis Park Breeders' Cup Stakes, finishing 4 3/4 lengths ahead of Chumsie in a field of five fillies and mares.

Hattiesburg, the 6-5 second choice, finished another two lengths back in third.

Miss Seffens, now a winner in 10 of 19 career starts, sped straight to the lead and was never threatened.

The other major speed threat, Hidden Assets, was an early scratch.

"I was kind of expecting Hattiesburg or something else to come up to me, but it never happened," said jockey Jon Court.

Miss Seffens, a 4-year-old Dehere filly owned by Kaaren and Hayes Biggs, and trained by Steve Wren, finished six furlongs in 1:09.35.