04/29/2004 12:00AM

Etoile Montante follows in Heat Haze's steps


Trainer Bobby Frankel will stick with a winning formula when he sends out Etoile Montante as the solid favorite in Saturday's $100,000 Argent Mortgage Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Frankel won the 2003 Argent Mortgage (formerly called the Citgo Distaff Turf Mile) with Heat Haze, who prepped for the one-mile race with a victory in Santa Anita's 6 1/2-furlong Las Cienegas Handicap. has followed a similar path, registering a half-length victory when making her 2004 debut in the Grade 3 Las Cienegas on April 3.

Like Heat Haze, Etoile Montante began her career in Europe, where she was a Group 1 winner at Longchamp in her final start before shipping to the United States during the fall.

"Off her record in Europe, Etoile Montante is a better filly at this stage of her career than Heat Haze," said Frankel. "The only knock against her coming into this race is that she's carrying a lot of weight, 123 pounds."

The one difference between Heat Haze and Etoile Montante is their running styles. Heat Haze won the 2003 Citgo Distaff Turf Mile from well off the pace, whereas Etoile Montante has more turn of foot and figures to be with the pace from the outset under Jerry Bailey.

The Argent Mortgage pace figures to be set by Sand Springs, a two-time graded stakes winner who will be making her 2004 debut Saturday. A daughter of Dynaformer, Sand Springs won the Grade 3 Regret and the Grade 2 Lake Placid stakes last season in wire-to-wire fashion.

"She's been training really well and is ready for a top effort," said trainer Anthony Reinstedler. "She's pretty much a one-dimensional filly and we'll just let her do her own thing on Saturday."

The rest of the Argent Mortgage field includes Honorable Cat, Shaconage, Flager, Blu Spur, Chance Dance, Abbey Bridge, Reason to Talk, and Darby's Charm.