12/26/2003 1:00AM

Bedanken wins in return


It had been a year and five days since she last had raced, but there was no rust on Bedanken when she ran Friday in the $60,000 Furl Sail Handicap at Fair Grounds. Racing in midpack behind a wicked early pace, Bedanken ran resolutely down the center of the Fair Grounds grass course and scored a one-length victory over Flager.

The performance wasn't as eye-popping as Bedanken's seven-length score here last December in the Pago Hop, her last start before a series of physical problems cost Bedanken almost all of her 4-year-old season. But using a series of in-company works over the Remington Park grass course, trainer Donnie Von Hemel had his filly ready to run after a long vacation. Ready, in fact, to post a stakes-record time of 1:36.19 for about one mile.

Eagle Lake came flying out of the gate from post 2 and ripped off an opening quarter-mile in 22.85 seconds, a suicidal pace for this course. Due to Win Again, trying to get position from a wide draw, chased her in second, and as the leaders went through a half-mile in 46.21 seconds, Bedanken, with Don Pettinger up, was racing in eighth. Bedanken began making steady progress around the far turn, and Pettinger kept her inside as long as he dared.

With a full head of steam turning into the stretch, he swung Bedanken wide, with his filly going clear in the final furlong, easily holding clear Flager's late rally. Considering her proximity to the early pace, Due to Win Again ran very strongly just to miss second.

Bedanken, a Pin Oak Farm homebred by Geri, paid $6.20 as the favorite.