08/12/2003 11:00PM

Beret finds a good spot to improve in Estrapade

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The last really good turf mare Harvey Vanier came up with was Wade for Me, whose win in the 2000 Modesty Handicap here earned her a start in the Grade 1 Beverly D.

The caliber of horses in the race proved too demanding for Wade for Me, who wound up seventh, and it was perhaps with that performance in mind that the Vanier barn passed on this year's Beverly D. with Beret, its talented turf mare this season. Instead, Beret finds a much cozier spot here Friday in the $75,000 Estrapade Handicap, a 1 1/16-mile grass race that drew a field of nine.

Vanier and his wife, Nancy, bred Wade for Me, but Beret came out of a yearling sale, a bargain purchase by the good sire Royal Academy. She runs for Nancy Vanier and her daughter, Lyda Williamson, whose husband, Brian, has played a major roll in Beret's development. Beret showed promise last year at age 3, and came back from a winter layoff to win two allowance races at Arlington.

"I would say she's about equal to Wade for Me," Harvey Vanier said Wednesday morning. "They're both triers, you know."

But while Wade for Me won her Modesty, Beret could finish only third. On the bright side, the two horses that beat her, Owsley and Bien Nicole, both are coming back Saturday in the Beverly D., and Owsley set a stakes record winning the Modesty.

Beret ran hard that day, and though she was no match in the stretch for the top two, she could still be moving forward in only her fourth start of the season. Friday, she may expect a more serious challenge from Flager, who finished a fading fourth in the Modesty, three lengths behind Beret.

An Argentine import, Flager won her U.S. debut June 28 at Churchill by 10 lengths. She rated and rallied in the stretch that start, but in the Modesty went up early to dispute the pace with Bien Nicole. The pace was fast, and while Bien Nicole ran on, Flager ran out of steam. She may prefer to stalk and pounce, and is a threat with that sort of trip.

Others to consider are Sweet Deimos, Janeian, Delicatessa, and Oglala Sue, who can contend if she can transfer her solid dirt form to turf.