04/09/2002 12:00AM

Bien Nicole must come off layoff and shorten up


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Bien Nicole, twice the runner-up in allowance races at Churchill Downs last fall, was an obvious contender when the race was drawn Saturday for Thursday's $30,000 allowance feature at Lone Star Park.

Three days later, her chances improved further. Mike Mareina, trainer of Rosequest, said Tuesday that he had scratched his mare from the race because of a fever. That reduces the field from 10 to nine, and more significantly, eliminates a horse who was likely to test Bien Nicole.

Even with Rosequest out, Bien Nicole will need a strong performance to win the featured ninth, a five-furlong second-level allowance on grass. She has never won or placed at a distance less than seven furlongs, and is unraced since Nov. 23.

Thursday's race is being used as a prep. "I think she'll do well but it's really part of a building process to get to the next race," trainer Donnie Von Hemel said.

That stated, Bien Nicole is training very well for her return. She breezed consistently at Oaklawn Park last month, and has two sharp local works. Von Hemel is also proficient with bringing horses back off a layoff, winning at a 24 percent rate with horses returning on two to six months rest, according to Daily Racing Form statistics.

Bien Nicole, a daughter of Bien Bien owned by John and Kristine Richter, won the $22,000 Sunbelt Handicap at Remington Park last fall. She has two wins and three seconds from six starts. Don Pettinger, 2 for 4 aboard the filly, returns in the irons.

Other prominent runners include Gone on Sheila and Dixie Kitten, a pair of stakes-placed fillies with established grass form.

All around the Von Hemel barn

Von Hemel, who tied for fourth in the standings here last year, will have 36 horses based at Lone Star Park once the Oaklawn Park meeting concludes this week. Currently he has 20 horses on track.

The headliner of his stable is millionaire Mr Ross, who finished second to Dixie Dot Com in the Texas Mile in 2001. Last week, he finished seventh in the Oaklawn Handicap.

Besides Mr Ross, Von Hemel plans to run See How She Runs and Bedanken, a pair of exciting fillies, over the course of the meet here. See How She Runs is an unbeaten Maria's Mon filly, and Bedanken won the Grade 3 Honeybee last month at Oaklawn Park.

"I'll also be running some 2-year-olds - like everybody, trying to find the next runner," he said.

Former rider Whited winning as trainer now

Trainer Danny Whited was in a familiar place Sunday: the winner's circle. Instead of riding a winner - as he did thousands of times during his career as a jockey - he was there as the winning trainer.

Whited, a 57-year-old horseman, is no stranger to training horses. He trained on and off for 15 years, and at one point, he even rode the horses he trained in Kentucky. Now, he gallops his horses in the mornings. He admits, "riding is a tough itch to lose."

He is the brother of another former rider, David Whited, who breaks young horses on an Arkansas farm. Long before brothers Donnie and Lonnie Meche rode against each other in Louisiana and Texas, David and Danny rode competitively against each other, everywhere from tracks to farms.

At an age when most children are riding bicycles, Whited was riding horses. He rode his first race in a Quarter Horse match race at age 6.

"We rode bikes, too," Whited said of he and David. "We rode them to get to where we rode the horses."

He is now focused on training. After serving as an assistant for Kenny Smith here the past couple years, he went back out on his own and has eight horses under his care. "It's nice to get that first win of the meet out of the way," he said.

Irving Distaff shapes up

The only stakes of the upcoming weekend - the $75,000 Irving Distaff at 7 1/2 furlongs on grass - is beginning to take shape. Headlining the race are three top fillies - Company Storm, Impending Bear, and La Recherche.

Impending Bear and La Recherche should vie for favoritism, despite returning from layoffs. Impending Bear, a Grade 2-placed mare with earnings of more than $253,000, is scheduled to make her first start since finishing third in the Dr. James Penny Handicap at Philadelphia Park last June.

La Recherche has been inactive since running sixth in the Sixty Sails Handicap at Fair Grounds on Jan. 13. Last year she won the Pago Hop Stakes at Fair Grounds and the Walmac Lone Star Oaks.

The likelihood of an overflow field could cause the race to be split into two divisions, as it was in 1997 and 1998. If divided, each division will remain worth $75,000.