04/29/2002 11:00PM

Elvi Gamble looms large in 11-horse Mamzelle

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - What a difference a year makes.

Last year the $100,000 Mamzelle Stakes drew a field of only six filly and mare turf specialists, and was dominated by Separata, who drew off to an easy six-length victory over Elvi Gamble and Penny Marie. This year's edition of the Mamzelle features a full and more evenly matched lineup, with Elvi Gamble and Penny Marie returning to take on 10 rivals going five furlongs on the grass.

Elvi Gamble is perhaps the most accomplished member of the Mamzelle field over the distance, having five wins and five seconds in 13 previous turf sprints. She comes in off a nose setback to Flying Birdie going the same distance in Gulfstream Park's Marshua River Stakes.

Penny Marie rallied to finish third, nearly two lengths behind Elvi Gamble, in the 2001 Mamzelle, after which she went to the sidelines for an extended vacation. She returned to action this winter at Santa Anita, and won the Winter Solstice Handicap before finishing second in the Grade 3 Las Cienegas Handicap.

"This race was kind of a last resort for her last year, knowing she was going to have to go to the farm because of problems she had allergy- and leg-wise," said Penny Marie's trainer, Bob Hess Jr. "She's doing tremendous, and is as good as I can get her now. The 12 post is a bit of an issue, but I expect her to run an A-plus race."

Penny Marie will have plenty of pace to run at in the Mamzelle with Elvi Gamble likely to be joined up front by speedsters Spanish Glitter, Powder, and Glitter Music, all of whom have little or no grass experience.

The remainder of the field is Global Vision, Fair Apache, Merry Princess, Dyna's Club, Repository, Island Echo, and Bedazzle.

Nielson seeks third Hard Scuffle win

Pennsylvania trainer Sanna Nielson has made the $100,000 Hard Scuffle Steeplechase at Churchill Downs a payday in the last two years. Pompeyo gave Nielson her first win in the Grade 1 race for novice hurdlers in 2000. Last year, Nielson's stable won with Praise the Prince, who was heavily favored.

On Thursday, Nielson tries for three in a row with McDynamo, who has yet to lose in two starts over hurdles. Run over about 2 1/16 miles, the Hard Scuffle is the first leg of the steeplechasing Triple Crown for novice steeplechasers, which coincides with the popular flat-racing Triple Crown. The series is restricted to non-winners over hurdles before March 1, 2001, and it also includes the $100,000 Joe Aitcheson Stakes at Pimlico on May 17 and the $100,000 Meadowbrook at Belmont Park on June 6.

No horse has ever swept the series, but Popular Gigalo (1999), Pompeyo (2000), and Praise the Prince (2001) won two of the three races.

McDynamo started in allowance races on the flat before changing codes last fall. A 5-year-old, McDynamo won his hurdling debut last fall in New Jersey, and followed with a seven-length win in an allowance race at Colonial Downs on April 13.

"He's been a little inexperienced, but I think this horse is pretty darn talented," Nielson said. "We've schooled him a lot and he seems pretty confident."

McDynamo will be ridden by Craig Thornton and will be well backed, but the likely favorite is Najjm, who has four wins over hurdles - three in England and a Group 3 stakes at Atlanta on April 13.

Najjm is trained by Bruce Miller for Gillian Johnston and will be ridden by Blythe Miller, who swept the two jump races at Keeneland last Friday.

Both of Blythe Miller's winners at Keeneland were trained by Jonathan Sheppard who is represented on Thursday by Miles Ahead.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen