12/21/2002 12:00AM

Bedanken romps in Pago Hop

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NEW ORLEANS - A wide-open race on paper, the Pago Hop Stakes unfolded as a laugher Saturday afternoon at Fair Grounds. Favored Bedanken humbled 11 opponents in the $100,000 Pago Hop, sweeping to the lead in upper stretch on her way to a seven-length victory.

But winning races is what Bedanken does. Bred and owned by the Pin Oak Stable of Josephine Abercrombie, Bedanken now has won seven times in the 10 starts of her career. Never worse than third, Bedanken has won races around one turn and two, on turf and on dirt.

"This filly is definitely worth following around," said jockey Don Pettinger, who has ridden Bedanken in all her starts, though it has meant traveling to four different states.

Bedanken might have appeared invulnerable in the Pago Hop, a one-mile turf race restricted to 3-year-old fillies, had she not finished third in her last start, the Grade 3 Regret on Nov. 16 at Churchill Downs. The Regret winner, Caught in the Rain, also raced in the Pago Hop, but this time she was no match for Bedanken and wound up a distant fourth.

"She broke from the outside last time and the race was on yielding turf," said Bedanken's trainer, Donnie Von Hemel. "I don't think she liked the softer going. The firmer ground this time helped."

Heavy rain hit New Orleans on Thursday, but by Saturday the turf course was labeled firm. Still, Pettinger said Bedanken "didn't handle the turf all that well at first. But as the race panned out, she began to take to it."

Bedanken settled into eighth place in the early going and held her position down the backstretch and into the far turn. Ahead of her, the pace horses - Distinctive Code, Atlantic Fury, and Voodoo Lady - were running too fast for their own good, going a half-mile in 47.46 seconds, a quick split for this course. By the top of the stretch that trio was finished, and the first wave of closers soon was overwhelmed by Bedanken, who had raced in the clear until Pettinger let her run coming off the turn. She quickly collared the lead group and ran alone through the rest of the stretch.

Bedanken paid $5.40 to win while running the "about" one-mile distance in 1:36.96. The time set a stakes record, crushing the old mark of 1:38.39 by 1.43 seconds.

Von Hemel isn't certain where she'll race next but said Fair Grounds turf stakes for older horses early next year are potential targets.