11/26/2004 1:00AM

Denebola out to restore promise of old

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The comparisons seemed just. As with Six Perfections, Denebola is a near-black filly with an attractive white blaze who closed her 2-year-old campaign with a victory in France's biggest race for 2-year-old fillies, the Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac. Both are homebreds of the Niarchos family's Flaxman Holdings Ltd. Both are trained by Pascal Bary.

But whereas Six Perfections trained on during her 3-year-old season to win the 2003 Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita, Denebola's 3-year-old season this year has been a disappointment, a winless campaign interrupted by illness. She has a chance to salvage the year, and set herself up for a promising 4-year-old season, in Sunday's Grade 1, $500,000 Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood Park.

Denebola has lost all five of her starts this year, but those closest to her - Bary and Alan Cooper, the racing manager for the Niarchos family - believe it is misleading. Denebola had a perfectly appropriate season debut in April, when she finished third in a prep for the French 1000 Guineas. But she took ill soon thereafter. She has lost four subsequent starts, but comes off two improved efforts against males.

"She was sick earlier in the year with a viral infection, and it took time to find her form," Cooper said as he watched Denebola train at Hollywood Park this week. "She missed out on the early-season classics. She's in good form now, and a mile should suit her."

Cooper said Denebola also prefers firm turf. That is one reason she has come here for the Matriarch, and a reason why she will remain in this country with trainer Bobby Frankel for a 4-year-old campaign.

"She likes a firm surface," Cooper said. "She was second last time, but she wasn't suited by the ground. This will be a nice way to introduce her to American racing."

Denebola most recently was second in the seven-furlong Prix de la Foret, a Group 1 race against males at Longchamp. In nine starts, she has never raced farther than one mile, the Matriarch distance.

"A mile is the maximum for her," Bary said.

A mile also was ideal for Six Perfections. In addition to her victory in the 2003 Breeders' Cup Mile, she was a tough-luck third at Lone Star this year when she sought a repeat. Asked to compare Denebola to Six Perfections, Bary candidly said, "The other one is better."

"This one, everything must be right," Bary said. "She has a lot of potential. But she was sick this year. She has more speed than Six Perfections."

Denebola has a feisty attitude. While galloping at Hollywood Park on Thursday morning, she held her head high, seemingly eager to do more. That aggressiveness must be addressed in races, Bary said.

"She's a nice horse," he said. "She likes to fight. She needs to be covered up. She has a very good turn of foot. And like most Storm Cats, she likes firm."

Storm Cat, the sire of Denebola, will be the mated to Six Perfections next spring. Six Perfections was retired after last month's Breeders' Cup Mile.

"It was very difficult to go back to France without her," Bary said.

Bary has 100 horses at his yard in Chantilly. He said approximately 25 of those horses are for the Niarchos family, descendants of the noted Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos. It is an association that has proven quite fruitful. Bary and the Niarchos family combined to win the 2002 Breeders' Cup Mile with 26-1 shot Domedriver. And last month, they won the Boussac for the third straight year when Divine Proportion followed in the footsteps of Six Perfections and Denebola.

"She's a wonderful filly," Bary said. "Maybe we go for the Breeders' Cup next year."