11/08/2001 12:00AM

Filly plays sweet music for Attfield


ELMONT, N.Y. - For some years, Roger Attfield, one of Canada's most successful horsemen, has dropped in at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga in search of a stakes victory.

He has won his share, too, and may do it again on Saturday when he saddles Sweetest Thing for the $150,000 Long Island Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/2 miles on the turf. A 3-year-old daughter of the Blushing Groom stallion Candy Stripes, Sweetest Thing was good enough this summer to beat the colts in the classic Breeders Stakes, third leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. The Breeders' Stakes, like the Long Island, is at 1 1/2 miles on the grass, and the few fillies who run in it carry 121 pounds. She drops to 115 pounds in the Long Island, in which she will be ridden by Richard Migliore.

If Sweetest Thing had not run in Keeneland's prestigious Grade 1 feature, the Queen Elizabeth Invitational a few weeks ago,she would be one of the favorites for the Long Island.

"I probably should not have run her," Attfield comments. "We have a huge grass course at Woodbine and she was accustomed to having a lot of room. Keeneland's grass course is tight by comparison, and our filly was a little upset. . . . She only had two weeks from her previous start, and probably would have benefited from a little more time."

Attfield bought Sweetest Thing at the Toronto sales for a bit more than $23,000 and sold two-thirds of her to two friends and patrons, Mickey Canino of New York and Bill Werner of Chicago. She was immature, mentally and physically, at 2 and never started. Attfield waited and waited with her, finally put her in a nine-furlong maiden race on the grass at Woodbine last June, and was rewarded with a smartly-turned victory.

She has no early speed but she can stay like a mother-in-law and finishes with gusto. If there is a realistic pace, the filly from Canada may be the Sweetest Thing in the Long Island.

Heath-Dudley a top-notch partnership

They were two young oil men from Indiana with a love of horses, and when they moored their boat at the marina in Ft. Lauderdale, they learned that the nice old man in the next boat was a horse trainer.

Jack Dudley and Bonnie Heath had sold their small stable of claimers several years ago but they had hoped to get back into racing. The old man, Hugh Fontaine, who had flown with Eddie Rickenbacker's hat-in-the-ring squadron during World War I, knew of a 2-year-old prospect in the village of Ocala, and that was the start of the Needles story.

In those days - nearly 50 years ago - the term Florida-bred was a pejorative and the usual word of reference was alligator. Needles quickly changed that, first as a prominent 2-year-old and then as the winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. Dudley and Heath were along for the glorious ride, and they made sure Needles did as much as a sire for the development of Florida racing and breeding as he did as a racehorse.

Jack Dudley died in 1998 at 87, and, early this week, Bonnie Heath slipped away at 85. Like their horse, they were champions.