04/17/2005 11:00PM

Chilean filly has star quality

Jack Coady/Coady Photography
Native Annie tries tougher after winning 4 of 5 against Texas-breds.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - John T. Ward Jr. has been around quality racehorses his entire life, having grown up just outside the back gate of Keeneland. So when he talks about a horse in glowing terms, it's time to start listening.

"This is one nice, nice filly," Ward said recently about Eccellenza, a Chilean champion who will make her North American debut Wednesday in the $100,000 Doubledogdare Stakes at Keeneland. "She might not win first time we run her, but I'll tell you, she's got tons of ability."

began her career in Chile by winning her first seven starts, all but one of them stakes, by an average of 6 1/2 lengths. She ran second against colts in her eighth and final start of 2004, the Group 1 Gran Criterium in early October.

Soon thereafter, she was bought by Ward's main client, John Oxley, and imported to the United States. Eccellenza trained well at Gulfstream Park before being shipped to Keeneland early this month, said Ward.

"She has trained like a filly who really could become anything in this country," said Ward, who won the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Monarchos. "I'm not sure she can win right away because that's not the way we do things. I'm just putting her on a path where we can get started toward a big year."

Eccellenza was bred by Haras San Patricio, which also bred Ema Bovary, who developed into one the top female sprinters in the U.S. in recent years after being imported from Chile.

Eccellenza will be treated with Lasix for the first time and will have Edgar Prado aboard when she faces six other fillies and mares.

Other contenders in the 1 1/16-mile Doubledogdare include Colony Band, who will start from the rail for the ever-dangerous team of Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez; Ender's Sister, a Rusty Arnold-trained filly who has been first or second in 10 of 13 career starts; and , who moves into open company after winning four of her last five starts, all against Texas-breds at Sam Houston and Lone Star Park.

Spectacular Lisa, La Reason, and Beau Watch complete the field.

The Doubledogdare is the eighth of nine races on a program that also includes four allowances (races 4, 6, 7, 9). The seventh race, a $66,000 sprint for older horses, seems the most notable of those. Wildcat Shoes, with Prado riding, may have a slight edge after hitting peak form this winter at Oaklawn Park.