10/21/2001 11:00PM

Juvenile Fillies: Will Habibti's third start ever be the charm?


ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Bob Baffert knows Habibti has the talent to win Saturday's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. He's just not sure she has the necessary seasoning.

An illness forced Habibti to miss the Grade 1 Oak Leaf earlier this month, meaning she will enter the Juvenile Fillies with only two races, and none since Aug. 26 when she won the Del Mar Debutante.

"When she got sick I had to give her antibiotics and it knocked her blood count down a little bit," Baffert said. "She's a slight filly, she's immature. You can't really turn the screws too hard on her. She's a very good filly. She's going to have to gut it out. She's not at full tilt like I'd like her to be, but the talent is there."

Monday, Baffert put Habibti through her final preparations for the Juvenile Fillies by working her five furlongs in 59.60 seconds at Santa Anita, as timed by official clockers. Baffert caught her last quarter in 22.80 seconds.

"This race, she'll probably run good," Baffert said. "It'll probably knock her out, but she'll have plenty of time to recoup."

Habibti was one of four Juvenile Fillies contenders to work on Monday. In Kentucky, Take Charge Lady, the Walmac International Alcibiades winner, went four furlongs in 47.60 seconds at Churchill Downs. According to trainer Ken McPeek, Take Charge Lady got her last quarter in 23.20 seconds.

"The Midwest horses get very little hype compared to the East and West Coast horses," McPeek said. "Last year, there was a lot of hype on [Cindy's Hero]. They overlooked Caressing and She's a Devil Due, and they ran first and third."

McPeek trained She's a Devil Due, and has repeatedly said that Take Charge Lady is a better horse.

At Belmont, trainer Eoin Harty put both Tempera and Imperial Gesture through five-furlong workouts over the main track. Since late September, Harty has had jockey David Flores breeze Tempera, looking for slower works than she was doing with an exercise rider.

Flores was in New York Monday specifically to breeze Tempera, putting her through a five-furlong move in 1:00.76. It was a particularly strong breeze considering Flores hardly moved his hands on the filly.

"I really was impressed with her," Harty said. "I purposely slowed her works because she was working too fast before the Del Mar Debutante."

Tempera has not run since finishing third in the Del Mar Debutante.

Imperial Gesture went five furlongs in 1:00.51, handily, under Lara Robinson. While Harty was pleased with the move, he questions whether she's good enough to compete in the Juvenile Fillies. She may run in Sunday's Tempted Stakes instead.

On Sunday, Bella Bellucci worked six furlongs in 1:12, by trainer Neil Drysdale's watch. Track clockers credited her with only a half-mile move in 48 seconds.

Bella Bellucci worked well off the rail and was never seriously asked for much by her exercise rider.

"We were looking for a cruising work and it became a high-cruising work," Drysdale said. "That's what she wanted to do, so that's what we let her do. I thought she was moving well within herself."

Also Sunday, Shesastonecoldfox, undefeated in four starts, breezed six furlongs in 1:13.54 under exercise rider P.J. Lydon.

"She blew a little bit from it," said Lydon, who said she felt the inside part of the track in the stretch was akin to quicksand.

Trainer Mike Ferraro said the goal of the work was to try getting Shesastonecoldfox to relax. "We know she's got a lot of speed, it's just that we've got to harness that speed," he said.