09/04/2003 12:00AM

Island Fashion and Lady Tak clash


ELMONT, N.Y. - There are basically four 3-year-old fillies in the running for divisional honors. Three of them will be running in Saturday's $250,000 Gazelle Handicap at Belmont Park.

While Kentucky Oaks and Acorn winner Bird Town skips the Gazelle for a race next month, Alabama winner Island Fashion, Test winner Lady Tak, and multiple Grade 1 winner Spoken Fur meet in the Gazelle, the final Grade 1 dirt route of the season restricted to 3-year-old fillies.

The Gazelle, run at nine furlongs, drew a field of eight Thursday and is the first of three Grade 1 stakes to be run on Saturday's 10-race Belmont card.

Island Fashion was a most impressive winner of the Alabama, romping to a six-length victory over Awesome Humor in a race that also included Spoken Fur (third) and Bird Town (fifth). The Alabama was the first race for Island Fashion since she was transferred to trainer Barclay Tagg, and it came on the heels of an equally impressive 6 1/2-length victory in the Grade 3 Delaware Oaks on July 19.

Tagg was on hand to watch the Delaware Oaks and afterward was excited that the filly was coming to his barn. Nick Canani trained Island Fashion for the Delaware Oaks but left after that race to take a private job for owner Michael Gill.

Asked what impressed him about Island Fashion's race at Delaware, Tagg said, "Everything that could possibly impress you about a horse. She did it easy. She was challenged most of the way, ran fast fractions, and drew away from that horse, and kept right on going. It looked to me like a mile and a quarter, she'd eat it up.''

Island Fashion did eat up the 1 1/4 miles of the Alabama, stalking the pace-setting Awesome Humor until the five-sixteenths pole before drawing clear. Tagg loves his filly's versatile running style, which should come in handy as she figures to stalk the speedy Lady Tak on Saturday. Island Fashion, the 122-pound highweight, will break from post 3 under John Velazquez.

When Lady Tak finished sixth in the Kentucky Oaks, run at nine furlongs, trainer Steven Asmussen felt that the filly probably would have distance limitations. But when she came back in the one-mile Acorn with a determined run after a troubled trip to fall a head short of Bird Town, Asmussen began to re-think his position.

"She stumbled away from there and got covered up,'' Asmussen said of the Acorn. "It was a very strong race. For it not to go smooth and for her to finish as well as she did at a mile is definitely what makes us feel like we've got a good chance at a mile and an eighth.''

In between the Acorn and the Gazelle, Lady Tak ran a freakishly fast race in the Grade 1 Test, winning by 4 1/2 lengths in a stakes record 1:20.83 for seven furlongs. Lady Tak breaks from post 8 under Jerry Bailey.

Spoken Fur returns to the track where she won the Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks in the summer. Trainer Bobby Frankel said Spoken Fur wasn't doing as well before the Alabama as she appears to be doing now.

However, Frankel was not happy that Spoken Fur drew the rail, and said he plans to enter her back in Sunday's Grade 1 Garden City on turf. "I'll look at both fields and see,'' he said.

Alchemist, unbeaten in three starts: Buy the Sport, a New York-bred who has raced exclusively in Europe; Danuta, the UAE Oaks winner; Holiday Lady; and Stellar complete the Gazelle field.