04/18/2004 11:00PM

Byrne hopes to win one for Sangster

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - A little more than 48 hours after he pays his final respects to Robert Sangster at a memorial service at Keeneland, trainer Pat Byrne will try to give Sangster a lasting tribute by winning the Bewitch Stakes on Wednesday afternoon.

Byrne will saddle Ocean Silk, owned by Sangster's estate, for the Grade 3, $100,000 Bewitch, a 1 1/2-mile turf race that drew a deep field of fillies and mares. Byrne said winning a Keeneland stakes race less than a week after Sangster died would be a fitting compliment to a legendary figure who had an enormous impact on European and American racing.

"This kind of situation can be pretty powerful," said Byrne. "Hopefully the filly can run like we believe she can."

Indeed, for a filly who finished within a length of Islington last year and was sent to Byrne with great expectations, Ocean Silk has been a disappointment in her three starts here. She was the distant runner-up in her U.S. debut last fall at Keeneland, then was second again in her 4-year-old debut, the Feb. 28 The Very One at Gulfstream. Then came her worst finish yet, an eighth-place finish in the Orchid Handicap at Gulfstream on March 21.

"She came out of the Orchid lame," said Byrne. "We found that she bruised her left front foot pretty badly. She was running nice and easy and then just stopped, so I knew something had to be wrong. Sure enough, she cooled out lame afterward."

But in the month that has passed, Ocean Silk has healed, said Byrne.

"She's had two great works and the foot is good," he said. "I'd like to see the grass course get the rain the forecasters have been calling for. The course was hard at Gulfstream, and she'd prefer some give to it."

Ocean Silk will be ridden by Pat Day when she breaks from post 8 in the 43rd running of the Bewitch, which is contested around three turns and will be limited to 10 starters. Other major contenders include Juliette, who is trained by Bobby Frankel and will be ridden by Jerry Bailey, and Meridiana, a German-bred trained by Christophe Clement.

The Bewitch kicks off the final three-day stretch of racing at the spring meet. The remaining feature races are Thursday's $150,000 Ben Ali Stakes, which is expected to get 2002 Belmont Stakes winner Sarava, and Friday's $150,000 Elkhorn Stakes, headed by two-time defending champion Kim Loves Bucky.