06/09/2003 11:00PM

Fillies form quite an odd couple


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Trainer Mike Mitchell's proposal may have seemed odd at first. Last winter, he asked owners Michael House and Leonard and Yolanda Fishelberg to breed their racing fillies to Skimming and put them back into training.

Both owners agreed. Since then, Stonebridge Lady and Runaway Pro have continued their careers, collecting purses from each start.

Both 4-year-old fillies start on Thursday in separate optional claimers at Hollywood Park and have realistic chances to win.

Runaway Pro may go favored in the seventh race, a $62,000 optional claimer over 1 1/16 miles on turf. She faces four others, including the durable I'm the Business, who has made 22 starts since the beginning of 2002.

Stonebridge Lady faces a tougher assignment in the second race, a $51,000 optional claimer over 1 1/16 miles. She must beat Barbara Orr and Cat Fighter, who both won maiden races in their last starts.

The concept of racing pregnant mares is not new, but two fillies in foal to the same stallion racing on the same day is an oddity. Skimming is in his first season at stud at Cardiff Stud Farm in Atascadero, Calif.

Mitchell proposed breeding Runaway Pro as a back-up plan if she was unable to continue racing following a layoff caused by a knee injury. Last year, she was winless in five starts and did not run after Sept. 8.

"She's had her share of problems over the years," he said. "I kind of mapped all this out. I had her in training in November to give her plenty of time. We got an early cover on her in February."

Runaway Pro has been in the best form of her career since returning to racing in April. In three allowance races, she has two wins and a third.

"I think when mares get in foal they really look like a million dollars and they run better," Mitchell said. "She's a terrific racemare."

Runaway Pro won her last start on May 25. The field she faces includes Alexine, who won the 2002 Santa Lucia Handicap at Santa Anita but is winless in five subsequent starts.

Stonebridge Lady was bred in late winter. She has since run twice, finishing fifth on April 19 and fourth on May 22.

Even if the pair has a successful summer, Mitchell knows their racing careers are nearing an end.

"I would think at the end of Del Mar I would retire both of them, even if they are sound," Mitchell said. "It's really worked out well."