08/16/2007 12:00AM

Brownie Points ships in for Gardenia

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HENDERSON, Ky. - Favorites have invaded from opposite coasts of the United States to win the last two runnings of the Grade 3 Gardenia Handicap, the only graded race run each summer at Ellis Park. Dream of Summer came from California to win the 2005 Gardenia, while Prospective Saint shipped from Florida to win last year.

This year, another accomplished shipper is here for the $150,000 Gardenia, although she hasn't traveled nearly as far. Brownie Points, a remarkably consistent filly who figures as the favorite in a field of 12, arrived this week after a six-hour van ride from Arlington Park, one of trainer Donnie Von Hemel's bases of operations.

Brownie Points, bred and owned by Pin Oak Stable, will carry 118 pounds as the highweight in the 26th Gardenia. A host of viable challengers awaits her, giving the one-mile Gardenia arguably its deepest field in years.

Brownie Points, a 4-year-old by Forest Wildcat, began her career with a 10th-place finish on Aug. 5, 2005, but in 17 races since then, she has missed a check only once, and that was when she ran sixth in her latest race, the Grade 3 Modesty last month on the Arlington turf.

"Since her first race, which was one of those first-time disaster kind of races, she's been a model of consistency," Von Hemel said Thursday from Dallas. "Turf or dirt, short or long, she always shows up. We've been very blessed and fortunate with this filly."

Luis Quinonez will be aboard Brownie Points for the 15th straight race when she breaks from post 8.

With Von Hemel at Louisiana Downs on Saturday to run several horses on the Super Derby prep-race program, fellow trainer Burl McBride will be deputized to saddle Brownie Points, who will spot her rivals from one to seven pounds. Foremost among those capable opponents are Eyes on Eddy, Leah's Secret, and High Heels.

Eyes on Eddy, much like Brownie Points, is consistent and classy. Since moving into the barn of Steve Asmussen last fall, the 5-year-old mare has won 3 of 7 starts and pushed her career bankroll past the half-million-dollar mark.

Leah's Secret, trained by Helen Pitts, won the Grade 2 Raven Run last fall at Keeneland, and although her recent form has not been her best, she has kept extremely tough company most of the year.

High Heels, the lone 3-year-old in the field, would be tough with a repeat of earlier efforts, including a romp in the Grade 2 Fantasy and a third-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks.

The rest of the Gardenia field is Mia's Reflection, Pleasant Hill, Molly's Pride, My Chickadee, Fiery Pursuit, Maggie Slew, Stop a Train, and Superb Ravi.

The Gardenia was inaugurated in 1982, when Sweetest Chant prevailed under Earlie Fires. As the 11th of 12 Saturday races, it is the linchpin in what Ellis began packaging several years ago as its "Big Four Stakes" program, a day that includes three other stakes worth $50,000 each. Those other races are the James C. Ellis Juvenile, the Anna M. Fisher Debutante, and the Regaey Island Stakes.