05/11/2004 11:00PM

Improving Friel's for Real seeks first graded victory


BALTIMORE - The vastly improved Friel's for Real has yet to win a graded stakes race, but her sharp form gives her an excellent shot to score a mild upset in Friday's Grade 3 Pimlico Breeders' Cup Distaff Handicap.

The $150,000 race drew a field of 10, but two marquee names are expected to be scratched. Roar Emotion is expected to run instead in Saturday's Shuvee Handicap at Belmont Park, and Smok'n Frolic will be scratched because of a bruised right front foot, according to trainer Todd Pletcher.

The assignment will not be easy for Friel's for Real. Such accomplished graded stakes runners as Fircroft and Nonsuch Bay are shipping in from New York for the race. But Friel's for Real has won four of her last five starts, including victories by five and six lengths in her last two outings.

"She just seems to be getting better," said trainer Ned Allard. "Sword Dance, a lot of his get get better with age. Can she jump up and knock out a better fighter? We'll find out."

Fircroft is returning to Pimlico, where she finished second in last year's Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. She won her lone start of this year in an allowance race last month at Keeneland.

"When she's at her best, she can compete with some very good fillies," said Rusty Arnold, who trains Fircroft. "We picked this race out because she did so well in the Black-Eyed Susan. We'd like to win a graded stakes with her. She's won a stakes, but not a graded stakes."

Nonsuch Bay was third most recently in the Bed o' Roses Breeders' Cup Handicap at Belmont. She also was being considered for the Shuvee, but trainer Frank Alexander said he will bring Nonsuch Bay to Pimlico because the Distaff is around two turns at 1 1/16 miles. The Shuvee is a one-turn mile.

"And I think it'll be a little easier race there," Alexander said from Belmont Park. "With some of the scratches, it's all the more reason to come."