09/19/2002 12:00AM

Ionia fave for double her sale price

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POMONA, Calif. - Buy a horse for $50,000; start her as the the favorite in a $100,000 stakes. Sounds easy.

Ionia, a $50,000 purchase at the Barretts March sale of 2-year-olds-in-training, is the one to catch Saturday at Fairplex Park in the $100,000 Barretts Debutante.

"She'll be the speed of the speed," predicts her trainer, Chris Paasch.

A field of 10 and one also-eligible, entered the 6 1/2-furlong stakes, restricted to 2-year-old fillies who were offered for sale at Barretts. Besides Ionia, contenders include improving maidens Last Kiss and Leniently.

When Paasch purchased Ionia for owners Rod and Lorraine Rodriguez at the Barretts March sale, the Debutante was hardly the goal.

"Not to knock the stakes, but when we buy a horse out of that sale, our sights are aimed a little higher," Paasch said.

In fact, Barretts has produced several Grade 1 winners, including Squirtle Squirt, Officer, and Habibti. For other sales graduates such as Ionia, the Debutante (and Barretts Juvenile for colts and geldings on Sunday) creates a cozy fall-back position.

Ionia, by Indian Charlie, scored a $91 upset in her Aug. 4 debut at Del Mar, but was overmatched in her second start in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante. Ionia pressed a hot pace going seven furlongs, cracked, and finished sixth.

"That might have been a little too much," Paasch admits. "It was fast pace and it might have been a little too far."

In three weeks since, Ionia has trained well. "She should have no excuses," Paasch said.

Goncalino Almeida rides Ionia, whose main rivals are maidens. One is Last Kiss, who broke slowly and finished fourth in her Aug. 2 debut at Del Mar. Second time out, she improved her gate speed and finished second. Unlike Ionia, Last Kiss has pointed toward the Debutante all summer. A $17,000 Barretts purchase, she is trained by Bill Spawr and will be ridden by leading jockey Tyler Baze.

Leniently is a second-time starter who showed keen speed before tiring in her first start Sept. 7. Maidens like her, trained by Ted. H. West, typically come up short first time, but often improve several lengths in their second start.

* Odds-on favorite F J's Pace raced gate to wire Wednesday in the $45,500 Aprisa Handicap. Ridden by Scott Stevens, the 7-year-old gelding raced six furlongs in 1:09.67 and won by two lengths. Mistakenly Special finished three lengths clear of Hyder. Rapidough was fourth; Rocky Bar and La Bandera scratched. Trained by Doug O'Neill, F J's Pace paid $3.40, his 10th win from 42 starts. His earnings are $402,527.

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