11/07/2002 12:00AM

Babae bullets into Athenia

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Babae is certainly a deserving favorite in Saturday's $100,000 Athenia Handicap at Aqueduct, but the depth of the field makes it tempting to try to find a price in the Grade 3 race for fillies and mares on turf.

Babae won the faster division of the split Athenia last year when it was held at Belmont Park. She has been ultra consistent this year, winning three stakes including the Grade 3 Violet Handicap on Sept. 20 at The Meadowlands. But, she comes into this race off a 50-day layoff, and at 120 pounds is conceding 4 to 8 pounds to 11 rivals. The race drew 16 horses, but only 12 will be permitted to run.

Trainer Frank Alexander said he gave Babae a break by design, as he is looking to run her in the Athenia, the My Charmer at Calder on Dec. 7, and the Honey Fox Handicap at Gulfstream on Jan. 5 before freshening her up for next spring.

Babae brings a bullet-laden worktab into the Athenia, and is the only member of the field to have posted a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure. She is also 4 for 11 at the Athenia distance of 1 1/16 miles.

A good or soft turf course may help some runners in this field, including the European shipper Polygreen. A 3-year-old French-bred daughter of Green Tune, Polygreen has run well in Group competition at Deauville. On Aug. 4, she finished 2 1/2 lengths behind Turtle Bow in the Group 2 Prix d'Astarte in which she encountered traffic trouble. Turtle Bow came to the U.S. to finish second in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational.

Trainer Freddie Head has brought Polygreen's regular rider, David Bonilla with him for the Athenia. Head hopes there is some pace in the Athenia because his filly likes to come from off the pace.

"The ground will be in my favor, that will help," said Head, who will transfer the filly to Richard Mandella after this race.

Trainer Christophe Clement will send out the uncoupled entry of Strawberry Blonde and Love n' Kiss S.

Strawberry Blonde made a smashing U.S. debut winning a third-level allowance race in which she defeated Magic Mission, who came back to run third in last Sunday's Las Palmas Handicap. Jerry Bailey, who has won 60 stakes this year, has the call.

Love n' Kiss S., last year's Pebbles Handicap winner, has won 2 of 3 starts since recovering from a small fracture in her hind leg.

Decencia, a Group 1 winner in Argentina, could be dangerous in her third start for trainer John Kimmel.

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