07/17/2003 12:00AM

CCA Oaks long on history


ELMONT, N.Y.- There was a time when members of the Coaching Club, skilled at handling a beautifully matched team of six, would clip-clop down Hempstead Turnpike and arrive at Belmont Park for a traditional lunch and the running of the American Oaks, which was sponsored by the club.

The CCA Oaks was probably the country's premier race for 3-year-old fillies, attracting such stars of the era as Cleopatra, Princess Doreen, Edith Cavell, Top Flight and Black Helen. The finest Oaks winners - the best of the best - were Ruffian and Twilight Tear. Ruffian came out of the race undefeated after 10 starts. Twilight Tear, who would later that season beat colts in the Arlington Classic and older horses in the Pimlico Special, came out of the Oaks with seven consecutive victories.

The Oaks, whether at a mile and three furlongs or a mile and a half, was always about stamina. It was a classic test in every respect, but times change. As countless other valuable features at shorter distances were introduced, horsemen found it increasingly more attractive to opt for the other races.

The New York Racing Association moved resolutely to strengthen its hand this year, packaging the Oaks with the Mother Goose and Saratoga's Alabama Stakes as a series, with an attention-getting $2 million bonus for a sweep of the three races. The only filly with a chance to bring home this rich prize is the Mother Goose winner, Spoken Fur, whose prospects appear formidable - if. If she can stay the trip.

Bobby Frankel bought Spoken Fur last month on behalf of the Amerman family's racing stable, just in time to run her in the Mother Goose. She was impressive, coming off the pace with eye-catching acceleration to open a lead of eight lengths at the furlong pole. Jerry Bailey wrapped up on her through the final eighth of a mile.

She has to travel three furlongs farther in the CCA Oaks, a difficult assignment. Can she do it?

"It's a guessing game, with her and with the others," Frankel said. "But she has been training really well, and we feel good about that."

Yell may be the principal threat. She has taken her time in coming in hand but appears to be making progress and has stamina in her pedigree.