06/05/2001 12:00AM

Caressing racing into shape

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ELMONT, N.Y. - When an illness prevented 2000 champion juvenile filly Caressing from making the major 3-year-old filly races of the spring, trainer David Vance started planning for the division's second season.

That season effectively starts Friday when Caressing heads a strong field of 3-year-old fillies entered in the Grade 1 $200,000 Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park. The Acorn is the first leg of New York's Filly Triple Crown, which also consists of the Mother Goose and the Coaching Club American Oaks.

The Acorn drew a solid field of eight, including stakes winners Latour, Real Cozzy, Unbridled Elaine, With Ability, and Honey Eyed as well as the promising unbeaten filly Victory Ride and Forest Secrets.

The race lost two starters as the undefeated Cat Chat missed some training time last week with a foot bruise and Starrer, a California shipper, developed colic, according to trainer David Hofmans.

Caressing, who won last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at 47-1, developed a bad virus while stabled at Oaklawn Park in February. According to Vance, she lost 25 days of training, meaning she wouldn't make races such as the Fantasy and the Kentucky Oaks.

Vance changed his plans and began thinking about the one-turn races in New York, such as the Acorn and the Mother Goose. As a prep, Vance ran Caressing in the Grade 3 La Troienne at Churchill on May 3 where she overcame a slow start to win the seven-furlong race by one length.

"She was behind schedule when I ran her in the race," Vance said. "I ran her two weeks before I was supposed run her. She was not as fit I'd really like to have her. It didn't seem to affect her any. She's had three weeks and everything's been good."

Pat Day, who rode Caressing in the La Troienne, will ride Caressing from post 4.

Also on Friday is the $75,000 Flash Stakes for juvenile colts at five furlongs. A field of eight was entered, led by Harmony Hall, a son of Gilded Time who won his maiden by 6 3/4 lengths in the Belmont mud on May 25.