11/07/2003 1:00AM

Finger Lakes filly may go as favorite


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - By far, the filly with the longest resume in the $125,000 New York Stallion Series Fifth Avenue Stakes on Sunday is So Sweet a Cat, who has run five times and has three second-place finishes in three restricted stakes at Finger Lakes.

Those finishes may not mean much going into any other $125,000 stakes for 2-year-old fillies. But the Fifth Avenue, a six-furlong race for fillies sired by New York stallions, did not draw a very strong field, and So Sweet a Cat, who is by Tomorrows Cat, will likely be the favorite. She has the highest earnings in the field, $83,278, and no other filly in the field of six has a stakes placing in her career.

So Sweet a Cat has always shown potential, according to trainer Ralph D'Alessandro, who is based at Finger Lakes. But her former jockey, Robert Messina, has had trouble corralling her speed early in her other races, the trainer said. As a consequence, So Sweet a Cat has been unable to hold off horses deep in the stretch in the three starts where she has settled for second, D'Alessandro said.

"This filly needs to be held together for the first part of the race," D'Alessandro said Friday. "We're looking for her to come off the pace, and, to be honest, we're looking for her to perform a lot better than she has been."

In her last start, the $35,000 Finger Lakes Juvenile in a full field of 2-year-olds, including males, So Sweet a Cat sprinted to the lead and ended up giving away a two-length advantage in deep stretch. D'Alessandro criticized Messina for the ride, and said that Jose Santos will ride on Sunday.

"She shouldn't have gotten beat," D'Alessandro said. "Robby's a friend of mine, and we've talked about it, but that race was a total joke. We had to go with someone else."

So Sweet a Cat's toughest competition will come from a pair of horses who each have one career start. French Dish, who is also by Tomorrows Cat, won at first asking in a restricted maiden special weight at Belmont Park by coming from 10 lengths off the lead. Her Beyer Speed Figure of 69 for that win is the highest in the field. She will start for trainer Mark Hennig.

Polish Crown, by Polish Pro, dwelt at the gate in her first and only start, giving away 17 lengths. But she made up ground late in the six-furlong statebred maiden special weight to finish second, beaten 6 3/4 lengths. She could improve for trainer Stanley Hough, who is good with 2-year-olds.

Also entered in the Fifth Avenue are Cat's Roar, a maiden by Tomorrows Cat who has four lifetime starts and is trained by Ramon Hernandez; Cavista, by Signal Tap, who has only a maiden win in her five-race career; and Delia's Gone, who will be making her first start. Delia's Gone is by Distinctive Pro.

The Fifth Avenue is the first leg of a three-race series that would award $100,000 to the owner of a horse who can win the Fifth Avenue, the $150,000 Park Avenue Stakes in April, and the $250,000 Statue of Liberty Stakes at Belmont in June.

D'Alessandro, for one, is already thinking of the series next year. After the Fifth Avenue, he said, So Sweet a Cat will "go to Florida for the winter, and then she'll be back for the 3-year-old races."