06/16/2002 11:00PM

A hurdle for Spring Meadow

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Bob Hess Jr. would like to think Spring Meadow, his 3-year-old sprinting filly, is good enough to compete in some of the division's major East Coast events this summer.

First, she must clear a relatively small hurdle Wednesday when she faces four older fillies and mares in a second-level allowance race at six furlongs that tops Belmont Park's nine-race card.

Spring Meadow, a daughter of Meadowlake who brought $200,000 at auction, is coming off a one-length victory in the Stonerside Stakes at Lone Star Park on May 25. It was her first win since she won her maiden Jan. 6 at Santa Anita by four lengths, earning a 102 Beyer Speed Figure in the process.

After disappointing in three straight stakes (twice she ran into Bella Bellucci) Spring Meadow finished second in an entry-level allowance race at Churchill Downs, the final race on Kentucky Derby Day.

"She wasn't doing real well then. She came into the paddock and looked real thin," said Hess, who added that jockey Kent Desormeaux told him "she felt weak down the lane. Originally, I was hoping she'd win and then go straight to Texas. But, I sent her back to California and she really blossomed. She got so good, she forced me to send her to Texas. She's doing equally as good now."

Hess is happy that his immediate plans call for Spring Meadow to run six furlongs, because he feels that's her best distance right now.

"Actually, I think she won in spite of the seven-eighths the other day," Hess said Monday from California. "Hopefully, I'm wrong, and she can go seven-eighths somewhere down the line, but for the time being she's better at six furlongs. She needs to win this race in order to consider some of the bigger races down the road. We hope she handles the track."

If Spring Meadow does not win this race, Hess will know not to try Grade 1 races like the Prioress on July 6 and the Test on July 27.

Wednesday's race did not draw a strong field. Textbook Method, a New York-bred daughter of Mr. Greeley, is 5 for 12 lifetime and makes her second start off a layoff for trainer Rene Araya. She beat open company last summer at Saratoga, but it was a weak field of open company entry-level fillies and mares.

Royal Banquet has lost 10 consecutive starts in this condition dating back to June 6, 2001. However, her five second-place finishes from eight starts at Belmont Park are reason enough to include her in the exacta.

Fit Performer and Halfway to Heaven complete the field.

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