05/27/2002 11:00PM

Filly runs first time post-crash

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SAN MATEO, Calif - Trainer Bob Hess nearly pulled off an amazing feat with Lady Essex in her last start.

He hopes to complete the deal this time in Thursday's feature at Bay Meadows.

Lady Essex, a 3-year-old filly, took five starts and a drop to the bottom $8,000 level to win her maiden.

Hess entered her on March 29 at Golden Gate Fields in a $40,000 optional claimer for her first start against winners and on the turf as well.

Lady Essex was 52-1 against a decent field in that one-mile race.

But she looked more like 5-2 as she took the lead early and opened a three-length advantage. She was running strongly and smoothly as she turned for home when she inexplicably swerved into the inner rail, crashing through it.

"I thought she was dead. She wasn't moving at all," Hess said.

She suffered some cuts and had other problems, but she survived, although Hess said, "The next morning she couldn't come out of the stall."

Hess still can't explain what happened in that race, but he thinks she might have been blinded momentarily as she turned into the stretch.

Hess has taken his time getting Lady Essex to run again.

"I've got her fit enough," he said.

Hess says Lady Essex has worked well since the incident, but he is not sure what to expect Thursday, when she meets nine other 3-year-old fillies in a one-mile turf race with a $25,000 claiming price.

"After they do something like that, you don't know if they'll run again," he said. "Once they fall, you don't know what they'll do."

One reason he chose this spot is because he wants Lady Essex to run on the turf. There is other speed in the race, which Hess said should keep her occupied and make a repeat of her last-race incident unlikely. "If there was another horse [with her the day of the accident], I don't think she would have done that," he said.

But until Lady Essex finishes a race, Hess will have concerns.

Three of the other entrants have turf victories. Skys Bold Princess was claimed from a $16,000 claimer on the turf here in her last race. Catchin Some Rays beat weaker foes in a race at Golden Gate Fields. Seamstress, who has been meeting better down south, won in Great Britain last year.

* A memorial service for trainer C.L. "Jack" Utley will be held Thursday at 11 a.m. at the receiving barn at Bay Meadows. The long-time trainer died of cancer on May 14.