06/13/2003 12:00AM

Fortuitous ready for her coming out party


PHOENIX - Year in and year out the 3-year-old fillies set is the toughest division to get a handle on. Many European imports come to the United States and try dirt for the first time. Even the Europeans who race on turf here are hard to evaluate until you have seen them run. Then there are the U.S. fillies who go from dirt to turf.

The good part is that it's possible to catch a good filly at a nice price. That may be the case in Sunday's Grade 3 Sands Point Handicap at Belmont, at 1 1/8 miles on the turf.

Fortuitous appears primed for a top try in the Sands Point. A daughter of Dynaformer trained by Jim Bond, Fortuitous has done little wrong in her brief career, and has done her best work on turf.

Last August she debuted at Saratoga going 1 1/16 miles on the turf, and won. Wheeled back in the Grade 3 Natalma at one mile on the turf at Woodbine, she won again. Then she tried dirt in the Grade 1 Frizette, and finished seventh at 24-1, beaten 25 lengths by Storm Flag Flying.

Bond then put her away for the winter and spring. She returned in the April 6 Via Borghese at Gulfstream, at 1 1/8 miles on the turf, and closed well to finish second, beaten a half-length by a 30-1 shot.

With that under her belt and a return to New York, Fortuitous appears to be in a great spot in the Sands Point. The one question mark: Can she handle turf that isn't firm? She hasn't had a chance to try it yet, though Dynaformers tend to run on just about anything.

As far as her opposition goes, Gal O Gal finished just a neck behind Fortuitous in the Via Borghese, and came back here May 15 to win a strong N3X allowance. Commander's Lady, by Deputy Commander, has shown turf is right up her alley, winning a good N1X allowance race at Belmont May 8. Ocean Drive has won four of her five career starts, all on turf, the lone loss coming last November in Hollywood's Grade 3 Miesque. Ocean Drive, trained by Todd Pletcher, won her lone start this year, the Appalachian at Keeneland.

But it's Fortuitous who looks primed to take an early lead in this division.

The Belmont: Good show

I kept hearing it all week long - a Triple Crown winner would be good for racing.

Well, I'm not so convinced. Good racing is good for racing, and we got just that in the Belmont, even if many felt deprived of seeing history when Funny Cide's bid fell short.

The Belmont was a winning situation for racing all around. For Empire Maker, the race provided validation after all the hype. For Ten Most Wanted, his Belmont try shows the Derby buzz was correct, and that he is one of America's top 3-year-olds. Funny Cide showed himself completely worthy of all the praise he received.

Finally, the Belmont was a win for the racing game. Everyone had their chance. Everyone fired their shot. It was a cleanly run race. No excuses.

It was a great day of racing, and like many I'm eager to see these three meet again.