08/04/2004 11:00PM

Bare Necessities makes repeat bid

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HENDERSON, Ky. - Quite understandably, the collective focus of racing fans in August rests primarily on Saratoga and Del Mar, leaving precious little room for smaller brethren such as Ellis Park.

But for at least a few minutes Saturday, more than a few heads will turn toward the Ellis simulcast signal when this homey track in western Kentucky presents the only graded race of its summer meet, the Grade 3 Gardenia Handicap.

The presence of Bare Necessities, a millionaire 5-year-old who won the Gardenia easily last year, lends genuine credibility to the $200,000 race. Bred and owned by Iron County Farms, Bare Necessities figures as a solid favorite in a field of six fillies and mares when she carries high weight of 119 pounds. Rene Douglas will ride.

"We've been looking at this spot for a while," said veteran trainer Frank Kirby, who drove Bare Necessities himself from Chicago on Thursday. "She's been training well. Hopefully she'll run like she did last year."

Bare Necessities, a distinctive-looking gray, will break from the outside post in the 1 1/8-mile Gardenia, which is carded as the 10th of 11 races. In her two starts since Kirby assumed her training from Wally Dollase, Bare Necessities has fared creditably, finishing second in the Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs and third in the Molly Pitcher at Monmouth Park.

Besides the trainer switch, probably the most notable change from last year's Gardenia is that Bare Necessities figures to face stronger opposition. Her challengers in this 23rd Gardenia are Wildwood Flower, who enters on a four-race winning streak; Miss Fortunate, a sharp winner of the local prep, the July 10 HBPA Handicap; New Dreams, unbeaten in two starts on dirt for trainer Ken McPeek; Angela's Love, a romping winner of the Fairway Fun in the spring; and Salzurita, a winner of three stakes within the past year.

Of those, maybe Miss Fortunate is most capable of the mild upset. Based at Churchill with Kenny McCarthy, assistant to trainer Bill Mott, Miss Fortunate earned career-best Beyer Speed Figures in her last two starts, most recently a 98 in her HBPA win. Before that, she got a 96 when she ran second as the odds-on favorite behind Wildwood Flower at Prairie Meadows.

First post Saturday is 12:40 p.m., with the Gardenia set for 5:38. The forecast calls for a high of about 90 and mostly sunny skies. Live coverage will be provided by Television Games Network.