04/04/2008 12:00AM

Eight Belles, Pure Clan rematch in Fantasy

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Kurtis Coady/Coady Photography
Eight Belles wins the Grade 3 Honeybee under wraps on March 16.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Oaklawn Park has been home to some of the top 3-year-old colts in the nation the last several years. This meet, the track's strength is its 3-year-old fillies.

Eight Belles and Pure Clan are co-third choice on the morning line, behind Country Star and Proud Spell, for the Kentucky Oaks Future Wager this weekend, but before they head to Churchill Downs there is business to take care of Sunday in the Grade 2, $250,000 Fantasy.

The 1 1/16-mile Fantasy continues the 35th annual Racing Festival of the South, when at least one stakes a day is being run over the final six dates of the Oaklawn meet that closes April 12. Sunday there is a stakes double, with the Fantasy undercard drawing Grade 3 winner Lantana Mob and the undefeated Force Freeze in the $50,000 Bachelor.

Eight Belles and Pure Clan are so intimidating that just two other fillies, Alina and French Kiss, will line up against them. Eight Belles will go favored in the four-horse field after winning the Grade 3, $100,000 Honeybee over the previously undefeated Pure Clan in their first meeting here March 16.

It was the second straight stakes win for Eight Belles, who cruised by 13 1/2 lengths in the $50,000 Martha Washington at Oaklawn on Feb. 17. Sunday, she seems poised to take another step forward for owner Fox Hill Farm and trainer Larry Jones.

"I don't think we've had to ask her for her best the last two races, so we've been able to save her," Jones said. "I think she's ready for any kind of performance she has to put on."

Eight Belles won the Honeybee under wraps. She has won her last three starts by a combined 29 3/4 lengths and has tactical speed, which gives her an advantage over the late-running Pure Clan, particularly in Sunday's short field.

"She's got enough speed to keep up with whatever's out there," Jones said. "She's not going to let anybody get away from her. And if there's no pace at all, she may get to get on the front end. She'll do whatever."

Ramon Dominguez will ride.

Pure Clan has used her kick to win 4 of 5 career starts, including the Grade 3 Pocahontas and the Grade 2 Golden Rod last fall at Churchill. The Honeybee was her first start since the Golden Rod in November, and she closed into a slow pace to finish second under regular rider Julien Leparoux.

"I thought she ran exceptionally well in light of the pace," said Bob Holthus, who trains Pure Clan. "She closed good. I really liked the gallop out. She really levels that last eighth of a mile.

"You would like to see a decent pace Sunday. Hopefully, they don't crawl around there."

Alina makes her graded stakes debut following an 18 3/4-length win in the $75,000 Green Oaks Stakes at Delta Downs in her last start, March 1. For her effort in the one-mile race she earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 100, making her one of just two 3-year-old fillies in North America to earn a triple-digit number so far in 2008. The other is Eight Belles, for a 15-length allowance win at Fair Grounds in January. The Fantasy will serve as a measuring stick for the emerging Alina.

"She ran unbelievably well last time, has trained nicely since, and so, shoot, we'll just jump off in the middle of them and see how good she wants to be," said Steve Asmussen, who trains Alina.

French Kiss is a half-sister to High Heels, the winner of last year's Fantasy.