05/12/2005 12:00AM

Classy fillies meet in Ribbon


CHICAGO - The Ribbon Stakes, the featured eighth race Saturday at Arlington, drew a field of seven 3-year-old fillies, and nobody really expected talent of this grade to show up.

"That came up a salty spot, didn't it?" said trainer John Ward.

Ward, who starts , was reasonably looking at the six-furlong Ribbon as something akin to a second-level allowance race for 3-year-old fillies, a condition that nearly has gone extinct in the spring, as trainers opt to run in stakes rather than allowances.

But the Ribbon is better than that. Two fillies, A Classic Life and Whimsy, are undefeated after three races, and neither would be eligible for a two-other-than allowance. Miss Matched, second in the Grade 2 Spinaway last season, comes off an easy comeback win in an entry-level allowance April 8 at Gulfstream, and Lady Carmen, who won her maiden at Saratoga, should rebound from a distant third-place finish last time out in a Lone Star stakes. The other three - - appear a cut below.

Miss Matched and A Classic Life both missed part of their 2-year-old season with surgery to repair bone chips. Miss Matched is a race ahead of A Classic Life, who makes her first start since August, when she completed her 2-year-old campaign with a win in an Emerald Downs stakes race.

"So far, knock on wood, she's trained perfectly this spring," said Grant Forster, who trains A Classic Life for Amy and Michael Feuerborn. "This is just kind of a starting point for her. I think she's going to be a much better filly going long."

Miss Matched was an odds-on favorite when she beat five rivals in her Gulfstream comeback, a race Ward called "a pretty easy spot."

"But she is a quality kind of filly," Ward said.

Whimsy didn't race at 2 and showed little ability in her training, causing trainer Mike Stidham to launch her career at Sam Houston rather than against tougher competition at Fair Grounds. But Whimsy might be the best of this bunch. Something clicked for her just before her debut, which she won by 9 3/4 lengths Jan. 29 at Sam Houston. She then easily defeated entry-level allowance horses at Fair Grounds, coming from off the pace to win, before taking a second-level Keeneland allowance race after battling for the lead.

"She's pretty versatile," said Stidham, who trains Whimsy for the Pin Oak Stable. "I like the outside draw here. We can stalk and go from there."