11/05/2003 1:00AM

La Reina moving up ladder nicely

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - A day after La Reina won her stakes debut in impressive fashion in the Grade 3 Tempted at Aqueduct, trainer Shug McGaughey was full of praise for the 2-year-old filly.

La Reina, a daughter of A.P. Indy, will make her next start in the Grade 2 Demoiselle, a 1 1/8-mile race on Nov. 29.

In Tuesday's one-mile Tempted, La Reina brushed off a strong challenge from Eye Dazzler at the top of the stretch and drew off to a three-length win. The Tempted was La Reina's third career start. She made her debut at Saratoga on Aug. 15 and finished a fast-closing second. She won a seven-furlong maiden race by five lengths at Belmont Park on Sept. 6.

McGaughey, who trains La Reina for Emory Hamilton, said he liked everything about the filly's performance in the Tempted.

"All things were good, considering it was just her third race," McGaughey said. "She broke from post 1 and had horses outside of her. She showed speed, which she hadn't before. She had never been to Aqueduct and she handled that good."

McGaughey said he believes La Reina, who sports a distinctive white blaze on her face, will be even better when she stretches out in distance.

"That's why I haven't been in a hurry with her," he said. Hamilton, said McGaughey, "isn't excited about racing 2-year-olds, anyhow. I figured if we just waited for the Tempted and then got her a race around two turns in the Demoiselle, that would be good experience for her."

In December, La Reina will leave New York for Florida, where McGaughey said he would give her some time to regroup from her 2-year-old campaign before deciding what stakes he will target with her next year.

Two near return for Lewis

Trainer Lisa Lewis is looking forward to returning two of her stakes winners, Capsized and River Rush, to the races.

Capsized, who won last year's Steinlen Handicap at Arlington Park and the Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga, is back breezing at Belmont after recovering from a tendon strain in his left foreleg. He has not raced since finishing ninth in the Citation at Hollywood Park on Nov. 30, 2002.

Capsized, a 7-year-old owned by Gold Spur Stable, has been plagued by myriad physical ailments during his career. When he was diagnosed with the strained tendon last March, retirement was considered, but when no satisfactory stud plans could be arranged, it was decided to return Capsized to training.

"It's nice to have my old buddy back," Lewis said. "He's doing very well and probably will be ready to run at the end of December or the first of the year in Florida." The tendon, she said, healed "very quickly."

River Rush won 4 of 6 starts last year, including the John Henry Stakes at the Meadowlands. He has not run since winning an overnight handicap at Hollywood Park on

Nov. 28, 2002, because of a pulled muscle behind. River Rush, a 5-year-old, is currently at Classic Mile Farm in Ocala, Fla. and will join Lewis's Florida division next month.

Lady Bi Bi to go in Athenia

Lady Bi Bi, who won the Ticonderoga in her last start, will try to kick her game up a notch in Saturday's $100,000 Athenia Handicap.

New York-bred Lady Bi Bi won her last three starts in restricted races and will be a longshot in the Grade 3 Athenia. John Hertler, Lady Bi Bi's trainer, said the time to strike is when the iron is hot.

"I wish she was eligible for Sunday's Stallion Stakes, because that would be ideal, but she isn't," Hertler said. "She really has gotten her act together and is very good right now. That's the time to try something like this."

Others pointing to the Athenia are Madeira Mist, Something Ventured, Approach, Delta Princess, Lady Linda, Lojo, Brandala, Coney Kitty, Artist Johanna, and Caught in the Rain.

Workout for Puzzlement

Puzzlement, who won the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap in August, worked seven furlongs on Belmont's main track on Wednesday. Clockers timed Puzzlement in 1:33.02 over the muddy track, with the dogs up.

Puzzlement has not raced since finishing third in the Woodward on Sept. 6. He was sick after the race and lost a few weeks of training. Puzzlement's trainer, Allen Jerkens, would like to bring the 4-year-old back in the $200,000 Carl G. Rose Classic at Calder on Nov. 15, but said the colt might not be ready. Puzzlement will race this winter at Gulfstream Park.