11/06/2003 12:00AM

Athenia may be decided by weather


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Horsemen and handicappers alike are hoping Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Athenia Handicap at Aqueduct remains on the turf. For horsemen, there are limited turf stakes opportunities remaining in the Northeast. For handicappers, few races come up as competitive as the Athenia.

Ten fillies and mares were entered with the hope that the race remains on the turf at 1 1/16 miles. Four were entered should the race be moved to the main track and switched to one mile. Races were taken off the grass Thursday and Friday, and the Athenia is the only turf race carded for Saturday.

Delta Princess may be favored in the Athenia based on her Hall of Fame duo of jockey Jerry Bailey and trainer Bill Mott as well as the fact she is 2 for 3 at Aqueduct and 6 for 8 at the Athenia distance. Her last four wins, however, have come on firm ground.

Delta Princess finished fourth in the Grade 3 Violet Handicap at The Meadowlands on Oct. 17 over "good" ground. Madeira Mist and Something Ventured, who finished second and third in the Violet, could be the ones to beat in the Athenia.

Madeira Mist, trained by Christophe Clement, is 2-2-1 from five starts this year. She posted narrow victories in the Grade 3 Dance Smartly Handicap at Woodbine in July and the George Rosenberger Memorial Handicap at Delaware in September. She was beaten two lengths by Dancal in the Violet.

"I got beat by a better horse that night. No excuse," Clement said. "She's been very consistent. We'll find out Saturday if she likes it soft."

Madeira Mist is the 117-pound highweight, breaking from post 9 under Edgar Prado.

Something Ventured has also been consistent this year, with a 3-2-3 mark from 9 starts, including a victory in the restricted Auntie Mame Stakes. She finished second in the Eatontown Handicap over soft ground at Monmouth and was third behind Wonder Again and Dancal in the Noble Damsel. Trainer Todd Pletcher said a slow pace compromised Something Ventured in the Violet.

"She's a little bit funny," Pletcher said, "in that if she makes the lead too soon she lets up."

Lojo has won two of her last three starts but could be compromised if the course is too soft. Conversely, Affirmed Dancer earned her best turf Beyer Figure on yielding ground when she was beaten a neck in the Gallorette Handicap at Pimlico on Preakness Day.

Drexel Monorail becomes the one to beat if the race is run on dirt.