03/16/2006 12:00AM

Celestial Legend back to her forte

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Jim McCue / Maryland Jockey Club
Celestial Legend makes her graded stakes debut in Saturday's Grade 3 Cicada at Aqueduct.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Though Celestial Legend successfully stretched out to one mile in her last start, her connections have decided to focus on shorter races for now.

"I think that she can go long," said Matyland-based Dale Capuano, who trains Celestial Legend for David Menard. "I think she's better sprinting."

Thus, Celestial Legend's first foray into graded stakes company comes Saturday, when she ships to New York to run in the Grade 3, $100,000 Cicada Stakes at Aqueduct. The Cicada is run at six furlongs over the inner track.

is unbeaten in six starts, including four non-graded stakes wins. She will face seven rivals in the Cicada, led by Wild Gams, Swap Fliparoo, and Ring True. Celestial Legend, a daughter of City Zip, will break from post 4 and be the 122-pound co-highweight under Erick Rodriguez.

Celestial Legend was a nose winner of the Wide Country Stakes at Laurel last out. Stalking horses from the inside, she squeezed through an opening along the rail and hit the rail a couple of times before nipping Cantora.

In her previous five victories, Celestial Legend had raced on the pace. She proved in the Wide Country that she could win off the pace, as well.

"I've known she could do that before she ever ran," Capuano said. "I trained her behind horses. Even after her first couple of races, I didn't expect her to be in front all the time."

There is plenty of speed in the Cicada for Celestial Legend to stalk. The connections of Oprah Winney paid a $1,000 supplemental fee to get her into the race. She won the Randaroo Stakes in front-running fashion in December before being dueled into defeat by Silvestris in the Ruthless.

stepped up from the maiden ranks to win the Dearly Precious over Silvestris, who broke slowly that day.

"She was gritty, and [Norberto Arroyo] rode her great, too," said trainer Jimmy Jerkens. "[Silvestris] broke bad, and he got her in the mix, then wound up trapping her when she rushed up on the inside. She's really stepping up, that's for sure, but she acts like she's got some quality."

and Wild Gams may be the biggest beneficiaries of a contested pace. Swap Fliparoo comes off a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Old Hat Stakes, her sixth runner-up finish from 10 starts. Wild Gams has won two straight races over the inner track, including the Oxford Scholar in her last start. Vasa, who appeared to have found a softer spot in Friday's Karakorum Splendor, was entered in this spot, as well.