03/09/2006 1:00AM

Fielding catches on


CHICAGO - The dark days this week at the National Jockey Club meet at Hawthorne found the trainer Bettye Gabriel down south, wading through a disaster area. Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters engulfed Gabriel's house in New Orleans East, and she is still figuring out exactly what to do with her wrecked property.

In her barn at Hawthorne, Gabriel has another force of nature by the name of Fielding. and his siblings out of the Alysheba mare Miss Purana are the kind that keep grooms, hotwalkers, and anyone else in their vicinity on alert.

"I've had three of them, and they're all kind of the same - very unpredictable," Gabriel said.

Kicking, however, has been one standby behavior in Fielding's repertoire. Another was his tendency to apply the brakes if he happened to make the lead at any point during a race. But on Feb. 27, Fielding shed that habit in a big way. He showed surprisingly sharp gate speed, made a clear lead, and cruised to an 11-length victory over nine other Illinois-bred maidens.

"I'm hoping he's just grown up," Gabriel said.

If that's the case, Fielding, who needed 18 tries to win a maiden race, has a legitimate shot at two straight victories when he starts Saturday in the sixth race, one of two Illinois-bred entry-level sprint allowances that are the twin highlights of a nine-race card. Fielding was one of seven horses entered in the sixth, and there are seven more in the seventh.

Fielding, an Editor's Note homebred owned by Raymond Cyborski, had lost short and long, turf and dirt before his breakthrough performance late last month. It was sweet reward for all the patience the gelding has taken.

"Even when he works, he won't work by himself," Gabriel said. "I have to work him with another horse or he'll just stop, and I don't mean slow down, I mean stop cold in the middle of the track. He's always had talent, but he's never utilized it."

Three potential threats to Fielding - - all exit poor efforts. Hail Victory, impressive in a pair of races late last spring, came back from a long layoff as the favorite in a Feb. 25 race at this class level, but stopped badly after going off as the favorite.

In race 7, Big Rushlet looks like a standout, having finished second at the class level last time out, almost 11 lengths ahead of the third-place horse.