06/24/2001 11:00PM

A Breeders' Cup Distaff preview?


ELMONT, N.Y. - This is a tale of two fillies, a memorable weekend, and a Breeders' Cup rendezvous.

The first of these fillies is Critical Eye, who might have felt slighted Saturday at Belmont Park. She won her last start, the Sheepshead Bay Handicap, by more than seven lengths, yet was dismissed, at 11-1, in the wagering for the $250,000 Hempstead Handicap, a Grade 1 feature for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles. The Hempstead favorite, at 4-5, was Beautiful Pleasure, winner of more than $2.5 million and part of an entry with stakes winner Darling My Darling. Beautiful Pleasure hadn't started since last November's Breeders' Cup.

Critical Eye, a 4-year-old daughter of the Roberto stallion Dynaformer, is a closer. When she has a genuine pace in front of her, she is eligible to come on and catch the best of them. That, essentially, is what happened in the Hempstead.

After Beautiful Pleasure tired on the lead, two other fine fillies, Jostle and Apple of Kent, took up the battle. They were at it in earnest when Critical Eye drove up to score by a neck under Mike Luzzi.

The homebred Critical Eye is owned by Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Schwartz, is trained by their son Scott, and has earned more than $785,000. Scott Schwartz plans to take the filly to Saratoga, where she was a winner at 2 and 3, and run her in two stakes, the $250,000 Go for Wand on July 29 and the $400,000 Personal Ensign on Aug. 24.

The ultimate goal is the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Belmont Park in late October.

Critical Eye beat a good field of fillies in the Hempstead, at a distance that is a bit short for her. She probably won't get an ideal pace in every race. Beautiful Pleasure should benefit from the race and may be much tougher the next time.

Jostle and Apple of Kent ran well in the Hempstead and either might have won if the other hadn't been in it. The competition in this division promises much interesting racing ahead.

The other filly in this story is Dancethruthedawn, who on Sunday emulated her dam, Dance Smartly, and beat the colts in Canada's principal classic, the $1 million Queen's Plate. Two weeks earlier, Dancethruthedawn had won the Canadian Oaks, yet she was strong throughout the 1 1/4 miles of the Plate. She raced closer than usual to the pace, took command at the quarter pole, and led the remainder of the way, holding off a late bid by Win City, the Plate Trial winner and the Plate favorite as part of an entry with Lucky Scarab. The winning margin was a half-length.

Dancethruthedawn, by Mr. Prospector, was bred by the late Ernest Samuel of Sam-Son Farm, who also raced Dance Smartly, the 1991 Plate winner, and Scatter the Gold, last year's Plate winner and a full brother to Dancethruthedawn. With the late Mr. Prospector acknowledged one of the top sires of the century, the Plate winner represents the epitome of pedigree.

"She came out of it in fine shape," trainer Mark Frostad said, "but she was a bit tired. We'd have loved to have three weeks between the Oaks and the Plate. Her next goal is the Prince of Wales, second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, at Fort Erie on July 22. If she were to win, we would probably go for the Breeders', the third leg of the triple crown, here at Woodbine on Aug. 11. Scatter the Gold won the Prince of Wales as well as the Plate, and Dance Smartly won all three, which gives that family six classic winners."

If Dancethruthedawn were to stumble in the Prince of Wales, Frostad said he would consider running her in the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 18. Dancethruthedawn ran in the Kentucky Oaks in early May but had an eventful trip, suffering a leg wound which required stitching. Frostad feels she showed her quality in the Plate, and if she holds her form into the fall, is, like Critical Eye, a logical candidate for the Breeders' Cup.