06/26/2003 11:00PM

Experience edge to Dixie Waltz

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ELMONT, N.Y. - An ankle injury suffered by Rodeo Licious and an illness incurred by Bikini Wiggle took two of the major players out of Sunday's $100,000 Astoria Stakes at Belmont Park. Handicappers may now find it difficult separating the three logical contenders - Dixie Waltz, Feline Story, and Unbridled Beauty - in the 5 1/2-furlong race for juvenile fillies.

Perhaps Dixie Waltz, trained by Nick Zito, deserves a slight edge over the other two by virtue of having two races under her belt, compared with one each for Feline Story and Unbridled Beauty. Dixie Waltz finished second behind Rodeo Licious in her debut May 14, before coming back to record an 11 1/4-length victory in the slop June 4. Rodeo Licious came back to win the Fashion Stakes here June 5, while Stoic, who finished third in that May 14 race, came back to win her maiden June 12 and is also entered in the Astoria.

In her maiden victory, Dixie Waltz stalked the pacesetting Forty Moves before taking over at the top of the stretch and drawing clear. Her final time for five furlongs was 58.55 seconds, .05 of a second faster than Feline Story, who won her maiden by 11 1/2 lengths two races later on the same card.

"I think my filly can either go to the front or sit behind horses. I don't have to worry about getting dirt in her face because she got dirt in her face the first time and still came running," said jockey Edgar Prado, who will ride Dixie Waltz from post 2 Sunday.

Feline Story, a daughter of Tale of the Cat, is trained by two-time Astoria winner Stanley Hough. Feline Story broke from the rail in her maiden victory, and was hustled to the front for the first three strides by Jorge Chavez before relaxing nicely on the lead while drawing off from the field. She breaks from post 4 Sunday.

Unbridled Beauty, a $750,000 yearling purchase out of the Saratoga yearling sales last August, was very impressive winning her maiden by 7 1/4 lengths at Churchill Downs May 26. Under Cornelio Velasquez, Unbridled Beauty quickly cleared the field leaving the gate and was tapped with the whip only once while drawing clear in 58.04 seconds.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has reached out for four-time Astoria winner Jerry Bailey to ride Unbridled Beauty, a son of Unbridled's Song out of the dam Dreamscape, who is a full sister to two-time sprint champion Housebuster.

Prudencia, a maiden winner at Philadelphia Park, and the Mike Gill-owned entry of Bagitdon'tchargeit and Loving Lucy complete the field.