07/22/2004 12:00AM

Bedanken stands out in strong bunch

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Bedanken might have beaten better horses before, but she probably has never won as easily as she did July 5 at Arlington. Running in an overnight turf stakes, Bedanken clung to the rail until she turned for home. She bumped another horse as she made her move, but that did nothing to deter Bedanken, who flew up to the leaders in a matter of strides and went past them while her rider, Don Pettinger, sat still as a stone.

"She had as good an acceleration as you can see," said Pettinger, reached by phone in Oklahoma.

Saturday, he will be back at Arlington to ride Bedanken in the Grade 3, $150,000 Modesty Handicap, a 1 3/16-mile grass race with a good field of eight. Besides Bedanken there is Shaconage, winner of the Grade 3 Locust Grove in her last start; Aud, who took the Grade 3 Pucker Up here last season; and Julie's Prize, the best Illinois-bred 4-year-old filly of her generation.

Bedanken, who has won 10 of 15 starts and more than $425,000, is the most accomplished of them, though her form was in tatters as the summer began. A series of nagging physical setbacks cost Bedanken almost all of 2003, but she easily won her first two starts this winter after coming back. Then came the Lone Star meet, and Bedanken floundered in two stakes over the Texas turf.

"At the five-eighths pole at Lone Star, [Pettinger] was having to ask her to keep up," trainer Donnie Von Hemel said. "She's like a different horse at Arlington."

Bedanken has logged two easy turf works since her last race, but she should not need much. With her relaxed style, Bedanken sits chilly until Pettinger says go. She runs hard the last quarter-mile, and with her kick, that is plenty.

Shaconage is a different kind of horse, with a longer, grinding move. But that works, too. Shaconage won the Grade 3 Argent Mortgage on Kentucky Derby Day, and after a bad-trip loss in the Mint Julep, she rebounded with a 1 1/4-length victory in the Locust Grove.

"She's been training real well," said trainer Mitch Shirota. "I expect her to run back to that race."

On looks alone, Julie's Prize can contend. "This is the best she's ever looked," said Tony Mitchell.

And who could disagree? Julie's Prize, who will be running late, is blooming with dapples, and looked fit to burst Thursday morning in Mitchell's barn. She can take it to the racetrack Saturday.