10/23/2001 12:00AM

Distaff: Fleet Renee follows Dickinson's plan


ELMONT, N.Y. - Twice this year, Fleet Renee seemed poised to take over the leadership of the nation's 3-year-old filly division. Twice, she failed to follow through after major victories. On Saturday, she will try again, in what will be the most important and, perhaps, the final start of her career, the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff at Belmont Park.

She has been carefully nurtured for Saturday's race by Michael Dickinson, whose exacting training produced Breeders' Cup Mile victories for Da Hoss in 1996 and 1998. Attention to detail, oftentimes bordering on the obsessive, is a Dickinson trademark. Dickinson has been known to walk the length of a turf course, with high-heeled shoes, so that he can tell jockeys the best ground for his runners.

Because he has his own farm in Maryland, Dickinson is not confined to the ground conditions or training time of those who are stabled at a racetrack. So on Tuesday afternoon at 3:30, when the fillies and mares at Belmont Park were getting ready for their evening meal, Dickinson sent Fleet Renee through her final serious workout at Tapeta Farm. She covered four furlongs in 52.40 seconds.

Fleet Renee, a daughter of Seattle Slew, rode a four-race win streak earlier this year to the top of her division. When she beat West Coast standout Golden Ballet in the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, Fleet Renee was unquestionably the leading candidate for an Eclipse Award. But she could only manage to finish fourth when favored in the Kentucky Oaks.

"She was beaten by a peculiar track at Churchill Downs, the same one that beat Point Given," he said.

Since then, Fleet Renee has had a well-spaced campaign. On June 30, Fleet Renee was back in top form, rolling to a 5 1/2-length victory in the Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont with jockey John Velazquez. But she skipped a potential showdown with Kentucky Oaks winner Flute in the Alabama Stakes on Aug. 18, then was upset as the 3-5 favorite in the Sept. 8 Gazelle Handicap, finishing third behind Distaff runners Exogenous and Two Item Limit.

Dickinson said Fleet Renee was kept out of the Alabama Stakes because "she wasn't quite right then.

"She could have run a 96, but not a 104," he said, referring to Beyer Speed Figures. Fleet Renee had run a 105 in the Mother Goose. Flute won the Alabama with a 106.

Dickinson said Fleet Renee was not at fault for her loss in the 1 1/8-mile Gazelle. Fleet Renee tired after being engulfed in torrid early fractions of 45.81 seconds for a half-mile and 1:09.69 for the first six furlongs.

"Johnny and I didn't anticipate quite that strong a pace," Dickinson said. "It was our fault, not hers."

Dickinson does not want Fleet Renee to be caught in a similar spot in the Distaff. He would prefer for her to sit off the pace and finish, and has trained her in such a fashion.

"We're doing all we can to get her to relax," Dickinson said.

By not having run since Sept. 8, Fleet Renee is coming into the Distaff a fresh horse. That, Dickinson said, was by design. He said the filly is "medium-sized," and that trying to squeeze in a start in the Oct. 6 Beldame Stakes, between the Gazelle and the Breeders' Cup, would have been counterproductive. "It's tough to do all three," Dickinson said.

* Exogenous, who will seek her third straight Grade 1 victory on Saturday, completed her serious training with an effortless half-mile breeze in 48.02 seconds Tuesday morning at Belmont Park. George Martens, the former jockey and top exercise rider for trainer Scotty Schulhofer, was aboard. "It was a beautiful work. She galloped out good. She didn't need much," Schulhofer said. "She's a nice filly. She's really come around. She's stepped up to the plate like the Yankees."