06/27/2002 11:00PM

Back from bug, Collymore Hal tries Astoria


ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Todd Pletcher hadn't intended for Collymore Hal to have such a big gap between starts, but when dealing with 2-year-olds Pletcher knows just about anything can happen.

Fortunately for him, Collymore Hall had nothing more serious than a virus. A Concerto filly, she came down with the bug shortly after winning her career debut by 6 1/2 lengths at Keeneland on April 25.

Collymore Hall returns to the races on Sunday at Belmont Park in the $100,000-added Astoria, meeting seven other juvenile fillies in the 5 1/2-furlong race.

Because of the ease of Collymore Hall's front-running victory in the 4 1/2-furlong Keeneland race over 10 rivals and her strong connections - Pletcher and rider Jerry Bailey - she could be the Astoria favorite.

Pletcher said he is pleased with the way Collymore Hall, who is owned by Eugene and Laura Melnyk, has bounced back from the virus, which forced Pletcher to miss a week of training.

"The perfect scenario would be to have a race in between, but it wasn't meant to be," Pletcher said. "I could see a scenario where she could get a little tired, but hopefully her speed will carry her five and a half furlongs. She's doing well physically and has put on weight."

Bailey shoots for his fifth Astoria victory on Collymore Hall, who drew post 7.

Heart Ofa Champion has a win over the track and at the Astoria distance.

A Skip Away filly, she showed nothing in her debut in the Three Chimneys Juvenile against males at Churchill on Kentucky Derby Day and finished last of 13. An exceptional field ran in the Three Chimneys Juvenile, including the winner, Holiday Runner, who came back to win the Fashion, and Zavata, the favorite for Saturday's Tremont.

Heart Ofa Champion followed up her lackluster debut with an easy win over a wet-fast track here on June 7. She set the pace under Bailey en route to a 5 1/4-length victory. Two of the horses she beat, Catbird Creek and Sheza Love Bird, came back and won their next starts.

Heart Ofa Champion's trainer, Bob Hess Jr., thinks his filly has a bright future.

"We'll be tickled if we can win a stake with her this early in the season," Hess said. "She's the type of filly that's going to get better in longer races and as she gets older."

John Velazquez rides Heart Ofa Champion from post 6.

Another contender is Beautiful Treasure, who shrugged off early pace pressure to win a maiden race at Churchill two weeks ago for trainer D. Wayne Lukas.