11/08/2001 12:00AM

Gino's Spirits poised for big finish

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Elliott Walden hit the first leg of his parlay when he got to keep Gino's Spirits for at least one more race, even after the mare was sold Wednesday at Keeneland.

On Saturday, Walden hopes to hit the next leg by sending out Gino's Spirits to defeat a tough field of fillies and mares in the $150,000 Cardinal Handicap at Churchill. If Gino's Spirits can run another big race in the Cardinal as the highweight and probable favorite, Walden might even be able to convince the mare's new owners, Newsells Park Stud, to wheel her back one more time, in the Nov. 25 Matriarch at Hollywood Park, a Grade 1 race to complete a career-ending parlay.

"That's part of the upside of them buying her, that she can make some of the purchase price [$550,000] back right away," said Walden. "She's as good as she's ever been right now."

Gino's Spirits is entered off back-to-back wins in the Kentucky Cup Ladies and the Bryan Station Stakes. Pat Day, who rode her in those triumphs, will be back aboard Saturday.

Last year in the Cardinal, a Grade 3 turf race at 1 1/8 miles, Gino's Spirits tired badly as the 7-2 second choice. "She's learned a lot since then, especially how to rate more kindly," said Walden.

At least several others should pose solid challenges to Gino's Spirits. Foremost among them is Babae, a Chilean-bred mare who wowed the Breeders' Cup eve crowd at Belmont Park by capturing the Grade 3 Athenia Stakes. Jorge Chavez, who guided Babae to that victory, will ride her again for trainer Frank Alexander.

Watch, second to Gino's Spirits in the Bryan Station, and Ioya Two, a winner of four straight in Chicago, also should provide stern opposition. Three other fillies - Alybgood, Lapuma, and Good Game - all enter off wins in Keeneland allowances.

The balance of the field is Clearly a Queen, Sitka, and Binalegend.

The Cardinal, which goes as the eighth of 10 races, is just one of a handful of interesting races on an excellent Saturday program.

The second race is part of the popular Trails End starter-allowance marathon series. The sixth is a third-level turf allowance that drew such quality fillies as La Recherche, Tabianka, and Miss Pickums. The ninth is a tough allowance route that drew Tahkodha Hills, E Z Glory, and Horrible Evening. And the 10th, the second leg in the CDSN "Turf Pick 3," is another highly competitive turf allowance.

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