11/09/2002 1:00AM

Favored Babae pulls it off


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Class prevailed at Aqueduct on Saturday as 8-5 favorite Babae took command around the far turn and held off the late charge of Strawberry Blonde to win the Grade 3 by three-quarters of a length.

It was 1 1/2 lengths back to Silver Rail in third.

It was the second year in a row that Babae won the Athenia, and the fourth consecutive year that jockey Jorge Chavez won the race, which was worth $116,700.

Babae, a 6-year-old Chilean-bred mare, looked to be the class on paper, and only had to overcome a 50-day layoff and her weight assignment of 120 pounds. She was conceding from 4 to 8 pounds to the field.

Breaking from post 8, Babae stalked a moderate half-mile of 49.06 seconds established by Shooting Party. Babae poked a head in front leaving the half-mile pole and opened up 2 1/2 lengths around the turn. Inside the furlong pole, Chavez had to resort to his right-handed whip, but victory was never in doubt. Babae covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.90 over yielding turf and returned $5.20.

Strawberry Blonde, who rated in ninth down the backside, altered course in the stretch under Jerry Bailey, but her late rally fell short.

Babae, owned by Joseph Platt, has won 13 of 39 starts and has earned $744,368. It was her fourth stakes win of the year in seven starts.

"She's a really good filly. She never runs a bad race. Even in the Diana she got beat a length at a distance she didn't like against the best fillies in the country," trainer Frank Alexander said. "When she gets to the front, she's game, she doesn't let anything get by her."

Alexander said Babae would make her next start in the $100,000 My Charmer Stakes at Calder on Dec. 7.

* Trainer Richard Dutrow went 3 for 3 on Saturday's card for a meet-leading 10 wins from 27 starters. His winners were Double Screen ($6), Max Jones ($17.80), and Cyber Secret ($8.60).