02/06/2003 12:00AM

Different story this year


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The pattern is a familiar one. Last winter, Moon Queen returned 14 weeks after finishing off the board as the favorite in Aqueduct's Grade 2 Long Island Handicap to register a 6 1/2-length victory in Gulfstream Park's Grade 3 The Very One Handicap. On Saturday, Moon Queen is back to defend her title in The Very One in her first start since finishing far back as the favorite in the Long Island Handicap.

The modus operandi is the same, but the circumstances may make things a lot more difficult for Moon Queen to become the first horse in the 15-year history of the race to win back-to-back editions of the 1 3/8-mile The Very One.

Unlike last winter, when Moon Queen faced only five rivals, this year's The Very One drew a full and very competitive field of 12 fillies and mares. The group includes San Dare, recent winner of the Grade 3 Honey Fox Handicap here; New Economy, winner of Calder's Grade 2 La Prevoyante Handicap; Queue, who defeated Moon Queen when she won the 2001 Long Island Handicap; Tweedside, winner of the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay Handicap; and Uriah, who finished 24 lengths in front of Moon Queen taking the 2002 Long Island in her U.S. debut.

Moon Queen's 12th-place finish in last year's Long Island was also her only start since she won The Very One a year ago.

"I had to stop on her because of a small suspensory injury after she won this race last year," said trainer Christophe Clement. "She was very unfit when she returned for the Long Island Handicap, but she looks good and is really training well right now."

Despite not winning a race in a year, Moon Queen will be the starting highweight under 117 pounds in defense of her title.

New Economy is coming off the best race of her career, when she rallied to a 1 1/4-length victory over Jennasietta and Tweedside in the La Prevoyante.

San Dare is in top form and stretches out off a hard-fought head victory over the Clement-trained Calista in the 1 1/16-mile Honey Fox.

Tweedside figures to improve off her third-place finish in the La Prevoyante in just her second start in nearly six months.

"She had surgery for an entrapped epiglottis after the Glens Falls Handicap, and I thought she really needed the race at Calder," said trainer Todd Pletcher of the La Prevoyante. "She's trained extremely well ever since."

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