04/06/2005 11:00PM

Champ's away - the rest came to play

Summerly has reeled off three stakes wins at Fair Grounds this winter.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Suppose for a moment that Sweet Catomine runs so well Saturday in the Santa Anita Derby that it becomes a no-brainer for the champion filly to run back in the Kentucky Derby four weeks later.

What, then, would that leave for the Kentucky Oaks?

Look no farther than the $500,000 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland.

Virtually every major Oaks prospect this side of Sweet Catomine will run Saturday in the Grade 1 Ashland, making the 1 1/16-mile race easily the most important prep for the May 6 Oaks.

"It does look like one heck of a race," said Richard Dutrow Jr., who will saddle the probable favorite, Sis City.

If not for her last race, Sis City probably would not be favored. But her front-running 16-length romp in the Feb. 5 Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfstream Park was a true sight to see, and Dutrow, one of the hottest trainers in North America today, has made every effort to ensure that she will be equally impressive Saturday.

"I haven't run her back since the Davona Dale because I wanted her coming here really, really sharp," said Dutrow. "And she is."

, who will break from post 4 in a field of seven 3-year-old fillies, will carry the familiar white and green silks of Stonerside Stable for the first time. Shortly after the Davona Dale, the powerhouse Texas outfit bought a majority interest in Sis City, a former $50,000 claimer, in a deal that reportedly set her worth at about $2 million.

Jockey Edgar Prado, who has won 20 stakes at Keeneland since the 2001 spring meet, assumes the call on Sis City from John Velazquez, who will be at Oaklawn to ride Ashado in the Apple Blossom.

While the speedy Sis City surely will dare her rivals to catch her, there are some who just might. Foremost among her challengers are Sharp Lisa (post 2) and Summerly (post 3), both of whom have perfect records as 3-year-olds.

Like Sweet Catomine, is based in Southern California, but she has somehow managed to dodge the champion since finishing sixth behind her in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall. Sharp Lisa is the lone Grade 1 winner in the Ashland lineup, having won the Feb. 12 Las Virgenes at Santa Anita in her latest start.

, trained by Steve Asmussen, dominated all comers in New Orleans this winter, breezing to three victories, concluding with the Grade 3 Silverbulletday in February and the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks four weeks ago.

Asmussen, who trained Sis City before the filly was claimed last August, said he is not concerned about how the race may unfold. Summerly, like Sis City, has blazing early speed.

"Our theory is that horses run from point A to point B, and you do whatever is best for your horse," he said. "You can't worry about what else is in there against you. You get them ready and you send them out to run their best race, period."

The rest of the Ashland field comes with solid credentials, too. Runway Model (post 1) was good enough to win the Grade 2 Alcibiades Stakes over Sharp Lisa here last fall. Letgomyecho (post 5) stayed unbeaten in three career starts when she defeated the highly regarded Maddalena in the Grade 2 Forward Gal Stakes last month. Memorette (post 6) was the runner-up to Sweet Catomine in the Santa Anita Oaks and to Sharp Lisa in the Las Virgenes in her last two starts. And the New York standout Amazing Buy (post 7) had won four races in a row before running a solid third in the Bourbonette Stakes at Turfway Park two weeks ago. She is cross-entered in the Meafara Stakes at Hawthorne on Saturday.

The Ashland, which dates to 1936, highlights a Saturday card replete with rich races. Among the supporting events is a $58,000 turf allowance (race 10) that lured Master David, the 12th-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby last year.

Sunny skies and a high temperature of 68 are forecast for Saturday.

The field

Ashland Stakes
Purse: $500,000; 1 1/16 miles; Grade 1

1Runway Model R. Albarado6-1
2Sharp Lisa G. Gomez5-1
3SummerlyG. Stevens5-2
4Sis CityE. Prado7-5
5LetgomyechoC. Velasquez6-1
6MemoretteB. Blanc10-1
7Amazing Buy J. Chavez20-1

* All starters carry 212 pounds
* DRF odds
* Television: Saturday, 4-6 p.m. (Eastern), TVG