11/01/2001 12:00AM

Caressing can stop the hurt

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer Dave Vance was blindsided two Saturdays ago when owner Roger Devenport, through a phone call from Devenport's wife, Betty, informed him that Unbridled Elaine was being taken from his barn. One Saturday later, Unbridled Elaine won the Breeders' Cup Distaff, effectively precluding Vance from earning some $100,000 in commissions.

Vance readily admits to being hurt by the incident, but he is more than willing to play through pain. This Saturday, Vance will run his champion Caressing in the $200,000 Churchill Downs Distaff, a Grade 2 race he says could go a long way in easing the pain from losing Unbridled Elaine.

"Caressing has always been our favorite, anyway," said Vance. "The thing with Unbridled Elaine was tough. It wasn't even in my mind that anything like that was going to happen."

Caressing is one of eight fillies and mares entered in the CD Distaff, a one-mile race in which Nasty Storm, trained by Dallas Stewart, figures as the favorite under Pat Day. Stewart currently is the trainer of Unbridled Elaine after losing her to Vance earlier in the year.

Caressing has won two of three starts at Churchill, losing her career debut before capturing the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall and the La Troienne Stakes last spring.

"I'd like this race to be 1 1/16 miles," said Vance. "But we're compensating for that with how much she likes this track. She trains here and she loves it. I wouldn't change anything coming into this race."

Caressing will have to run better than in her last two starts, both decisive losses at other tracks. Besides Nasty Storm, who enters off sharp back-to-back stakes victories, the opposition includes such capable sorts as Trip, an earner of over $670,000; Rose of Zollern, who also seems to save her top performances for Churchill; and Forest Secrets, winner of the Grade 1 Acorn in June.

The rest of the field is Precious Feather, Wittenberg, and Vivid Sunset. Forest Secrets and Vivid Sunset are coupled in the wagering.

The CD Distaff serves as a prep for the $250,000 Falls City Handicap, which will be run Nov. 22. A number of top fillies and mares, including Unbridled Elaine, Spain, and Miss Linda, are being considered for the 1 1/8-mile Falls City.

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