08/07/2007 11:00PM

Biancone, Schwartz roll for a three

Mathea Kelley/Horsephotos
Lady of Venice, starting her year with a win at Keeneland, comes off her victory in the Grade 1 CashCall Mile.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - When Gorella surged to an eye-catching victory last year in the Beverly D., she gave her owner, Martin Schwartz, and trainer, Patrick Biancone, their second straight victory in the Arlington Park fixture, following Angara's 2005 triumph.

Saturday, Schwartz and Biancone will shoot for an unprecedented third straight victory in the Beverly D. when they are represented by Lady of Venice, one of the main contenders in the $750,000 race for fillies and mares. Until Gorella won last year, no connections had ever won back-to-back runnings of the Beverly D. - nor, in fact, has any owner or trainer won consecutive editions of the other two Grade 1 races in the rich International Festival of Racing, the Arlington Million and Secretariat Stakes.

Schwartz and Biancone both said from Saratoga this week that they are cautiously optimistic they can make it a three-peat. Lady of Venice has won all three of her races this year, capped most recently by the Grade 2 CashCall Mile at Hollywood Park, but faces what clearly will be her toughest test when she will be opposed by Citronnade, Honey Ryder, and four other fillies and mares in the 1o3/16-mile Beverly D.

Biancone said Lady of Venice has trained extremely well on the Keeneland Polytrack since returning from her CashCall victory and that she is approaching the Beverly D. in peak form. The chestnut 4-year-old is scheduled to make the seven-hour van ride here Friday from Lexington, Ky.

"My filly's been in good form," said Biancone. "She won well last time. But for sure this is never easy. The good thing is she seems to have kept the same form she had last time. After that, it's a race."

But while Lady of Venice has been a major reason that Biancone, 55, is enjoying yet another highly productive season - his stable earned more than $5.3 million last year, and into this week, earnings for 2007 stood at more than $3.3 million - he nonetheless is shadowed by legal troubles that potentially threaten his professional existence. Last month, Daily Racing Form reported that a painkiller forbidden by racing, cobra venom, was found in a refrigerator in a tack room in one of Biancone's barns at Keeneland during a June 22 search conducted by the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority. Biancone, who has not been penalized while a racing authority investigation continues and is still overseeing his large stable, has steadfastly declined comment on the matter and did so again Wednesday.

Kentucky chief steward John Veitch said Wednesday from Ellis Park that he is not yet able to comment on when a stewards' hearing into the Biancone case will be conducted.

Schwartz said he has been bothered by how the alleged finding has been reported and would prefer that "due process take its course" before Biancone is punished, whether by the Kentucky racing authority or in the court of public opinion.

"In my mind, Patrick is innocent," said Schwartz. "I asked him whether he did anything wrong, and he said no."

Biancone will arrive here early Saturday to focus on his Festival runners, Stream Cat in the Million and Lady of Venice in the Beverly D. Lady of Venice is the fourth choice on the program line for the Beverly D. at 9-2 behind Citronnade (2-1), Honey Ryder (5-2), and Irridescence (4-1), although it's conceivable she could challenge for second choice by post time.

Citronnade has won her last five races, including the last four in wire-to-wire fashion. Opposing owners and trainers, including Schwartz and Biancone, are taking a measure of solace from the fact that another speedy mare, Jennie R., is in the Beverly D. lineup.

"I like the fact Jennie R. is in there because hopefully she can keep Citronnade pretty honest," said Schwartz.

Bobby Frankel, the trainer of Citronnade, said the presence of Jennie R. could allow his filly to show another dimension.

"I wish we were on an easy lead without that other filly in there, but this will show us what she's made of," said Frankel. "If she wins this race, she's a superstar, right?"

Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Honey Ryder, seems less concerned about the pace scenario, and for good reason: Honey Ryder invariably shows up, period. Easily the most experienced horse in the field, the 6-year-old gray mare has 13 wins and 24 in-the-money finishes from 31 starts and has earned more than $2.3 million.

"She's clearly established herself as one of the top mares in training," said Pletcher. "Certainly her record is extremely consistent and impressive."

Like Angara and Gorella, Lady of Venice has a strong closing kick that will be needed to catch these other top-class runners.

"I've got my fingers crossed," said Schwartz. "I'm hoping she can win Saturday so she can be number one. I like that."