10/04/2001 11:00PM

Countdown to the Cup: The Distaff (10/4)

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This is the time of year when the 3-year-old crop gets the supreme test of its overall ability, by facing older horses. That is the hurdle Flute will try to clear on Saturday at Belmont Park, when she meets older stakes horses for the first time in the $750,000 Beldame Stakes.

The Beldame is one of two Grade 1 preps this weekend for the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff on Oct. 27 at Belmont Park. The other is Sunday's $500,000 Overbrook Spinster Stakes at Keeneland. But it is the Beldame that deserves the most attention, both because of its lineup, and the fact it will be run at the same track and distance - 1 1/8 miles - as the Distaff.

Trainer Bobby Frankel, who has been white-hot for the past three

months, believes Flute will acquit herself well against older fillies and mares.

He is confident for two reasons: He believes Flute is a special filly, perhaps the best he has trained, and that this year's older fillies and mares "might be a little bit below average."

"She stacks up well," Frankel said from New York. "She's very good right now. I always thought she was good since she ran in the Santa Anita Oaks, and she hasn't let me down.

"Flute is a different kind of horse," Frankel added. "She recognizes your voice. She loves having you around. She's almost like a pet."

Flute comes off a victory in the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga.

Flute's rivals Saturday include Beautiful Pleasure, who won the 1999 Distaff but is winless this year. Frankel this week said he believes Beautiful Pleasure "is not as good as she used to be," but John Ward Jr., who trains Beautiful Pleasure with his wife, Donna, says his mare is "pretty sharp.

"She should run her race. If she doesn't, she's turned her mind off," Ward said Wednesday from his barn near Keeneland. "I think she's ready to rock and roll." Ward said Beautiful Pleasure would return to Kentucky following the Beldame to prepare for the Distaff because "she does so much better here."

Other probables for the Beldame include Critical Eye, Exogenous, Irving's Baby, Pentatonic, Serra Lake, and Spain, who won last year's Distaff. Gourmet Girl is passing the race because of a "little, tiny splint on her left side," trainer Pico Perdomo said.

"She's going to be okay. Unfortunately, it came at the wrong time," Perdomo said. "There's nothing you can do." Gourmet Girl would have to be supplemented to the Distaff. Perdomo said no decision has been made yet as to her Breeders' Cup status. Gourmet Girl is scheduled to be retired at year's end.

The Spinster will feature Pompeii, the winner of the Personal Ensign Handicap at Saratoga. After that race, a private sale found her transferred to trainer Elliott Walden from the barn of John Kimmel.

"When you get one that's just won a Grade 1, you're hoping just to hold them there," Walden said.

Lazy Slusan and Printemps are shipping in from California for the Spinster.

The Distaff picked up a new contender when California-bred Queenie Belle won Saturday's Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting. Trainer Ben Cecil said owner Gary Seidler was keen to go to the Breeders' Cup, rather than the California Cup. "And the thing I like about it is that it's one turn," Cecil said.

Tranquility Lake, the beaten favorite in the Yellow Ribbon Stakes on turf last Saturday, had her shoes pulled after the race, according to trainer Julio Canani, who complained that Santa Anita's turf was too hard.

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