09/25/2003 11:00PM

Classy Tates Creek gets an endurance test

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Tates Creek is a millionaire, a winner of 10 of 15 starts and a major stakes winner in California and New York.

Despite those credentials, she is left with something to prove as the strong favorite in Sunday's $500,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Oak Tree at Santa Anita.

The Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon is Tates Creek's first start at 1 1/4 miles on turf, and the outcome will be a determining factor in whether she is pointed for the $1 million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

"There's always concern," trainer Bobby Frankel said of the distance.

There can be no argument about Tates Creek's ability over 1 1/8 miles on turf. She won the 2002 Diana Handicap at Saratoga over that distance. Earlier this year, she scored at 1 1/8 miles in the San Gorgonio Handicap at Santa Anita and the Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park.

In her last start, Tates Creek finished in a three-way dead-heat for second in the Grade 1 John Mabee Handicap at Del Mar on July 26, leading in deep stretch but failing to hold off stablemate Megahertz, who won by a half-length.

"I was a little disappointed last time," Frankel said. "Since then, things are much better."

Tates Creek faces seven opponents in the Yellow Ribbon. Her biggest threats figure to come from Crazy Ensign, a minor stakes winner at Del Mar last month, and the entry of Musical Chimes and Magical Mission.

Crazy Ensign has won her last two starts, including a course-record performance over 1 3/8 miles on turf in the California Thoroughbred Trainers and Thoroughbred Owners of California Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 29. The win was by preceded by an equally impressive victory in a one-mile allowance race, which ended a 10-race losing streak.

"She's still going well and she's never been like this," trainer Richard Mandella said. "She's just happy."

Unlike many of the fillies and mares in the Yellow Ribbon, Crazy Ensign is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup and will not be supplemented, Mandella said.

"It's a bad bet," Mandella said. "This is my Breeders' Cup."

While Crazy Ensign was a Group 1 winner in Argentina, she has not won at that level in the United States.

"We've beaten some easier fields and we have to see if we can set up and beat these," Mandella said.

Magic Mission and Musical Chimes will be well backed. Trained by Neil Drysdale, Magic Mission won her first stakes in the Grade 3 Royal Heroine Stakes over a mile at Hollywood Park on July 5 and was a game second in the Grade 2 Palomar Breeders' Cup Handicap over 1 1/16 miles at Del Mar on Sept. 7. In that race, she closed from last in a five-horse field to miss catching Spring Star by a neck.

Musical Chimes was one of the top 3-year-old fillies in France this year, winning the 1000 Guineas and finishing third in the French Oaks. She was a disappointing 10th of 12 in the Group 2 Prix d'Astarte in early August. The Yellow Ribbon Stakes will be her final start for trainer Andre Fabre before she is turned over to Drysdale.