09/22/2001 12:00AM

Joanies Bella gets the distance


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The Ohio-bred filly Joanies Bella loves Chicago. Four months after winning her debut at Hawthorne, Joanies Bella made her second trip to Chicago on Saturday and came away with a much bigger prize, a neck win in the $100,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes.

Joanies Bella, racing in mid-pack for most of the race under Marlon St. Julien, moved into contention turning for home and just withstood a late rally from Brief Bliss. Owned by Jerry Ayres and Dan Martin, Joanies Bella paid $10.80 to win as the third choice in a field of nine. The longshot First Again finished third, while 17-10 favorite Miss Indiana faded to seventh while suffering her first career loss.

The winner ran a one-turn mile in 1:39.34, a very slow time for a Grade 3 race that was being contested over a fast racetrack. That Joanies Bella's final furlong, a sluggish 14.26 seconds, was good enough to win the Lassie underscores the impression that Chicago's crop of 2-year-old fillies this season is not a strong one.

Joanies Bella, however, has had a very good year for trainer Tim Hamm, banking almost $180,000 while winning three stakes. Her good form this summer came in Ohio-bred company, but Joanies Bella proved more capable of negotiating a route distance than the other stretchout sprinters in the Lassie field.

Last year's Lassie runner-up, Caressing, returned to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, but Hamm, who is based at Thistledown in northern Ohio, was not immediately ready to commit to Joanies Bellais next start. "We're taking it day by day with her," he said.