07/01/2006 12:00AM

Bushfire moves to head of class

Bushfire with Edgar Prado riding wins the Mother Goose Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Bushfire staked her claim to leadership of the 3-year-old filly division Saturday with a solid victory in the Grade 1, $250,000 at Belmont Park.

Content to sit off a rushed-to-the-lead Teammate after an opening quarter-mile, Bushfire took control of the race at the five-sixteenths pole, and galloped home to an easier-than-it-looked three-quarter-length victory over Pine Island. It was a half-length back to Ready to Please in third.

Lemons Forever, the Kentucky Oaks winner and 5-2 Mother Goose favorite, finished fourth.

Bushfire added the Mother Goose to a resume that includes Grade 1 victories in the Acorn and Ashland as well as a win in the Florida Oaks.

"This will definitely put her at the head of the division," trainer Eddie Kenneally said. "She's beat everybody.''

It wasn't until Wednesday that Kenneally committed to running Bushfire in the Mother Goose. He was fearful of a regression following a hard-fought victory in the Grade 1 Acorn here three weeks ago. But his decision to run proved fruitful.

Bushfire, under Edgar Prado, grabbed the early lead while running an opening quarter in 23.86 seconds. After veering in from the rail at the start, Teammate was sent to the lead by Cornelio Velasquez after 3 1/2 furlongs and Prado was content to let Bushfire sit off that rival.

Teammate began to retreat after running six furlongs in 1:11.11 and Bushfire took control of the race at that point. After turning back a stubborn Ready to Please in midstretch, Bushfire had more than enough to hold off a late-running Pine Island at the wire. Bushfire ($8.60), a daughter of Louis Quatorze owned by Ronald and Ricki Rashinski, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.86.

Kenneally called it Bushfire's best race because of the way she relaxed. Prado, who had ridden her twice before, concurred.

"She broke sharp, but she wasn't rank,'' Prado said. "She was relaxed, and even when another horse came to us, she was still relaxed. She was waiting for me to tell her what to do.''

Though Bushfire has won the first two legs of New York's triple crown for 3-year-old fillies, Kenneally said he probably won't run her back in the final leg, the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, here on July 22. Kenneally said he would look at the Alabama at Saratoga on Aug. 19 or the Gazelle on Sept. 9 at Belmont for Bushfire's next race.