09/17/2004 12:00AM

Five challenge Sense of Style


ELMONT, N.Y. - Sense of Style's status as the best juvenile filly on the East Coast will be tested in Sunday's Grade 1 Matron at Belmont Park when she meets five intriguing rivals.

Sense of Style has already defeated Graceful Nancy, Summer Raven, and Play With Fire, three of her five challengers in the $300,000 Matron. Sense of Style has not yet faced Darn That Girl or Balletto, and both are upset candidates in the one-mile race.

Sense of Style won her maiden by 2 1/2 lengths on Aug. 1 at Saratoga and came back 19 days later to take the Grade 2 Spinaway by 6 3/4 lengths. The hesitancy to pass horses she showed in her maiden win was far less evident in the Spinaway, a sign of maturity.

"She improved very much between the first and second one, and she doesn't do it anymore," trainer Patrick Biancone said of Sense of Style waiting on horses. "She's like a bicycle - you put her where you want and when you ask her she goes. From time to time you get an easy one to train."

Biancone believes the stretch-out to one mile will be perfect for Sense of Style, who will break from post 4 under Edger Prado.

Darn That Girl and Summer Raven both competed in what was regarded as the best juvenile filly maiden race run here in the spring. That came on June 17, when Dream Time defeated Darn That Girl by one length, with Comacina third and Summer Raven fourth.

Darn That Girl, trained by Rick Violette, won her maiden on July 10, but went into the Schuylerville Stakes at Saratoga with a tender foot. Darn That Girl ran gamely to the sixteenth pole before finishing fourth, beaten 2 3/4 lengths. She aggravated that injury in the race and missed about 10 days of training.

Summer Raven flipped her palate in that June maiden race. She finished second to Sense of Style at Saratoga on Aug. 1 before winning her maiden on Aug. 29 in a game performance. Though Summer Raven has been on the pace her last two starts, jockey John Velazquez believes Summer Raven can relax breaking from post 5 on Sunday.

Balletto, a daughter of Timber Country, won two races in 16 days. In an allowance victory at Saratoga, Balletto broke slowly, rushed up, and rallied along the rail to win.

"She was able to run up close on a fast pace and was still able to respond the last part of the race and finish," trainer Tom Albertrani said. "I thought it was a pretty strong performance."