10/29/2001 1:00AM

Distaff: Unbridled Elaine finishes strong


ELMONT, N.Y. - Unbridled Elaine, who was transferred back to her original trainer only one week earlier, ran down Spain in the final yards to capture the $2.36 million Breeders' Cup Distaff, denying Spain her second straight victory in the championship race.

The Distaff, the first Breeders' Cup race of the day, was delayed for nearly 15 minutes because of an injury that befell Exogenous, who reared back and hit her head just as she was about to step on the track for the post parade. Exogenous, who remained prone, had to be sedated in order to be taken from the track in a horse ambulance. She was reported to be recovering well, her trainer, Scotty Schulhofer, said Monday.

Unbridled Elaine, rallying in the middle of the track, won by a head over Spain, who had a two-length lead with a furlong remaining. Two Item Limit was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third. Flute, the even-money favorite, was seventh in the field of 11. Exogenous was a late scratch, joining Fleet Renee, who had been scratched from the race on Friday.

Unbridled Elaine, sent off at 12-1, paid $26.60 for $2 to win. She was timed in 1:49.21 for 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track.

Tranquility Lake and Queenie Belle led a tightly packed field through fractions of 23.62 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 46.94 seconds for a half-mile while racing into a stiff headwind. Spain was to the outside of those two, while Flute was trapped inside, in a part of the track that jockeys seemed to avoid if they could.

Unbridled Elaine, meanwhile, was near the back of the field, with jockey Pat Day biding his time. Unbridled Elaine was forced to wait for running room with a quarter-mile remaining, then had to alter course sharply to the outside with 300 yards to go. By that time, Spain had vaulted clear of the field, but Unbridled Elaine closed furiously.

Had Spain won, she would have been only the fifth horse to win Breeders' Cup races in successive years.

Flute, meanwhile, was unable to get away from the inside, which appeared to be the worst part of the track. She ran trainer Bobby Frankel's Breeders' Cup record to 0 for 37. He later won with Squirtle Squirt in the Sprint.

Unbridled Elaine's victory brought a wide range of emotions. Day, temporarily, became the winningest jockey in Breeders' Cup history with 12 victories; Jerry Bailey, who later won the Sprint with Squirtle Squirt, also now has 12. Dallas Stewart, the winning trainer, got his first Breeders' Cup victory. But trainer David Vance, who had Unbridled Elaine taken away from him one week ago by owner Roger Devenport, was bitterly upset.

"It cost me over $100,000," Vance said, referring to his share of the prize money, from his home in Louisville, Ky.

Unbridled Elaine originally was trained by Stewart, but was removed from his care by the 81-year-old Devenport and given to Vance in June. But on the morning of Oct. 20, Devenport phoned Vance and told him Stewart would be over in two hours to pick up Unbridled Elaine and nine other horses. Both Stewart and Vance train at Churchill Downs.

Unbridled Elaine, a massive, gray-colored 3-year-old filly by Unbridled's Song, has now won 6 of 10 starts. She won the Monmouth Breeders' Cup Oaks in July, and was second to Macho Uno when facing colts in the Pennsylvania Derby in September. In her most recent start, she finished fourth in the Overbrook Spinster Stakes.

Stewart on Monday said Unbridled Elaine came out of the race well. She returned to Churchill Downs on Sunday. Although her immediate plans are indefinite, Stewart said Unbridled Elaine could race once more this year. She will remain in training next year. Flute also will race next year, according to Frankel.