07/24/2001 11:00PM

Astrid tries to take a big step


OCEANPORT, N.J. - If there is a horse for the course in Saturday's Grade 2 Monmouth Oaks, the premier race for 3-year-old fillies at Monmouth Park, Astrid is the one.

Astrid has come into her own here this summer, beating a tough allowance field and then romping in the Serena's Song Stakes on July 4, her first race around two turns. The Oaks, which carries a purse of $250,000, will be a move, but trainer John Dowd knows his filly will be up to the challenge.

"This is a big step for her," he said. "But we have to give her a chance to step up. You don't know until you try."

Astrid was purchased for $20,000 by Leslie and Bobby Hurley at the Timonium Yearling Sales, and started her career at Monmouth last summer, winning a maiden race and then running fifth in the Grade 3 Sorority. She ran poorly at Gulfstream Park in the winter, but Dowd was convinced that she would come around with time and added distance. Astrid has proven her connections right, especially with her breakout performance in the Serena's Song, run at one mile and 70 yards.

"We knew all along that she was bred to go longer," Dowd said. "She is twice the horse going long than going short."

Astrid is named for Leslie Hurley's younger sister, who will celebrate her birthday on race day. Astrid is also the only Dowd 3-year-old in racing shape.

"Songandaprayer has a hoof infection and Shooter will be sidelined a while," Dowd said, "so Astrid is carrying a lot of weight - the whole stable."

Unbridled Elaine arrives early

Unbridled Elaine, one of the top fillies coming in for the Oaks, arrived at here Tuesday from Churchill Downs. She was accompanied by Charles Fulco, assistant to trainer David Vance.

"It was a long ride," Fulco said. "We flew from Louisville to New York to drop off some horses, then flew to Delaware and vanned up from there. She's not a real good van rider, so I'm glad we're here several days before the race."

Unbridled Elaine made her first start for Vance in the Iowa Oaks on July 5, and dominated the field by 8 3/4 lengths. She had been previously trained by Dallas Stewart, who campaigned her to a win in the Pocahontas Stakes as a juvenile and a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont in June 8.

Unbridled Elaine worked at Churchill before she shipped out, jogged the track Wednesday, and will do the same the morning of the race.

Quick Blue travels often

Each of Quick Blue's six career starts has come at a different track. The next stop on her list is Monmouth for Saturday's Oaks. According to Samantha Randazzo, assistant trainer to Linda Rice here, the filly has taken to her new surroundings well.

"She is a good-minded filly," said Randazzo. "She has acclimated well to the track, and she is very happy and sharp."

Quick Blue, who won the Bison City at Fort Erie in her last start, worked out last Saturday at Belmont, and then vanned here. She galloped 1 1/2 miles Tuesday and Wednesday.

Other likely starters for the Oaks are Southern Fiction and Indy Glory. Kain's Prize is a probable starter.

Which stakes race for Wittenberg

Vicki Oliver is keeping her options open with Wittenberg, but the mare, who finished a troubled fourth in the Grade 2 Molly Pitcher Handicap, could make her next start in the Grade 1 Go for Wand Handicap at Saratoga on Sunday.

Oliver said Wittenberg will likely ship up to Saratoga to get acclimated to the track, and depending on how the race draws, she could start, or scratch and return to Monmouth to prepare for the Lady's Secret Stakes on Haskell Day, Aug. 5.

* Friday's feature, a $41,000 optional claiming allowance at six furlongs, drew a field of six. Maddie May, trained by Todd Pletcher, was a stakes winner as a juvenile, and Friday's start will be her first since April 7.

* Rafael Mojica Jr., who escaped serious injury in a spill last Friday, will likely return to riding next Wednesday, according to his agent, Bruce Golub.