07/18/2008 12:00AM

Bear Now, Serenading go at it again

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Throat surgery helped to get Bear Now back on the winning track in the June 21 Hill 'n' Dale Stakes, but she may face a stern challenge from Serenading in Sunday's $150,000 Ontario Matron Stakes at Woodbine.

Bear Now, the 2007 Sovereign Award runner-up for champion 3-year-old filly, has run three times this year. She finished second to My List in her season opener in the Grade 3 Whimsical Stakes, then set the pace before tiring to third in the Grade 2 Allaire du Pont Distaff on Preakness Day at Pimlico. Trainer Reade Baker said she underwent throat surgery shortly after that May 17 route race.

"She had an entrapped epiglottis," said Baker. "Around the far turn, when she usually scoots away from the field, she didn't seem to have it, and I didn't know why. She went to Cornell University to be operated on."

Bear Now set a moderate pace in the 1 1/16-mile Hill 'n' Dale. She had a three-length lead with an eighth of a mile left, and barely held off a closing Serenading in the final strides.

Baker said Bear Now missed significant training time leading up to the Hill 'n' Dale, a race she won in a romp last year.

"She only trained 14 out of 33 days, which means that I probably shouldn't have run her," Baker admitted. "She didn't have enough underneath her. I thought she did, but she got leg-weary down the lane when they were closing in on her. She had enough guts and talent to hold on."

Winning the 1 1/16-mile Matron would put Bear Now over the $1 million mark in earnings.

Serenading ran the race of her life in the Hill 'n' Dale, rallying from eight lengths back to lose by a head. She earned a lifetime-best 92 Beyer Speed Figure.

"I thought she ran an enormous race," said trainer Josie Carroll. "She did exactly what we hoped that she'd do. She relaxed, and unfortunately nobody went with the horse on the lead to soften her up. She took an awfully good run at her."

Serenading, a blue-blooded daughter of A.P. Indy, has yet to land a stakes, something that would increase her value significantly.

"I think it's really important that she become a stakes winner," said Carroll. "She's got some quality. It'll happen, and it would be really nice if it happened this weekend."