10/24/2005 11:00PM

BC Distaff: Year later, Stellar Jayne is still chasing Ashado

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Stellar Jayne's entire year has revolved around the Distaff, according to assistant trainer Rick Mettee.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Stellar Jayne was one of the workhorses of the 3-year-old filly crop of 2004. While Ashado rightly received acclaim, and a divisional championship, Stellar Jayne was not far behind.

In 13 starts that stretched from Jan. 4 through Oct. 30, she had five matches against Ashado, and though she finished behind the victorious Ashado in the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks, and Breeders' Cup Distaff, Stellar Jayne did beat Ashado when winning the Mother Goose Stakes, and finished in front of Ashado in the Alabama Stakes.

Since being purchased last fall by Godolphin Racing Inc. and transferred from D. Wayne Lukas to British-based trainer Saeed bin Suroor, Stellar Jayne in 2005 has come out about as often as the sun this week in New York. After spending the winter in Dubai, she finally came back to the United States, but has made just two starts. And though she has won both races, the schedule could not be any more different from last year's.

Both campaigns, though, were focused on the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Stellar Jayne finished third in the race last year at Lone Star Park, where she rallied gamely despite breaking from the outside post in a field of 11 and getting caught wide most of the way. This year, Stellar Jayne will try to win the $2 million Distaff on Saturday at Belmont Park, a victory that would even her score with Ashado, and might very well help her wrest a divisional title from Ashado, too.

The entire year has been designed around one day. According to Rick Mettee, the American-based assistant trainer for Godolphin's East Coast string, Stellar Jayne was purchased, and managed, with the Distaff in mind. She spent the winter in Dubai, resting for a return to America.

"She ran about every three weeks last year, and once you stop on a horse like that, it takes awhile to get back," Mettee said at his Belmont Park barn. "There aren't any races specifically for fillies on the dirt on the Dubai World Cup card, so the plan always was to give her some time off. The goal was to have three races and then this. We ended up having two."

Stellar Jayne made her first start of the year in the 7 1/2-furlong Misty Gallore at Belmont Park on July 2. She was supposed to come back at Saratoga in the 1 1/8-mile Go for Wand, but a back problem that needs constant attention flared up and prevented Stellar Jayne from running. She could have made it back by the end of the meet for the 1 1/4-mile Personal Ensign, but Mettee thought - and Suroor and racing manager Simon Crisford agreed - that it would be better to skip that race and instead point for the 1 1/16-mile Ruffian on Sept. 11 as a step toward the Distaff.

"We wouldn't have done that if we didn't have the hind-end issue," Mettee said. "We would have run at Saratoga if she was right, but we had to back off. The timing worked out better for the Ruffian, rather than try to run her a mile and a quarter."

Stellar Jayne, 4, is all business. "She's not real lovey-dovey," Mettee said. "She likes being left alone for the most part." A powerful daughter of Wild Rush, Stellar Jayne does not have a smooth, pretty stride. She hits the ground hard when moving at full speed, which might explain her back problems. According to Mettee, Stellar Jayne wears an electrical blanket before she goes out to train, and has a specialist work on her hind end with electrical stimulation five days a week.

"We do what we can for her," Mettee said.

Mettee, 47, has been around a number of top horses over the years. After beginning his career in his native Maryland with the late Dick Dutrow, Mettee moved to California and worked as an assistant to trainer John Gosden from 1981 to 1988. They won the inaugural Breeders' Cup Mile in 1984 with Royal Heroine.

When Gosden returned to his native Great Britain, Mettee got many of Gosden's better horses, including the female turf runner Annoconnor. But Mettee, who is quiet and studious, never has been a rah-rah salesman, and didn't develop new clients. Beginning in 2001 - "when the workmen's comp insurance first started to get real bad," he said - Mettee went to work as an assistant for larger barns, including those of Paddy Gallagher and Mike Machowsky.

But earlier this year, when Sheikh Mohammed was looking for a U.S.-based assistant, Gosden recommended Mettee. He started the job in March, and brought about a dozen horses with him when he left Dubai in April. The mission with Stellar Jayne is the same today as it was then: Win the Distaff.

"This has been the goal the whole year," Mettee said.