11/01/2003 1:00AM

La Reina's stakes debut nothing she can't handle


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Trainer Shug McGaughey never has to be in a hurry when it comes to training horses for owner Emory Hamilton. The fact La Reina is ready to make her stakes debut in Tuesday's Grade 3, $100,000 Tempted Stakes says a lot about the quality of the 2-year-old filly.

"[Hamilton] would rather she be a good 4-year-old than a good 2-year-old," McGaughey said of La Reina.

In two starts, La Reina, a daughter of A.P. Indy out of the Grade 1 winning mare Queena, has shown the potential to be good at any age. After finishing a strong second in her career debut at Saratoga in August, La Reina won her maiden by five emphatic lengths, going seven furlongs at Belmont on Sept. 6. La Reina's debut turned out to be a key race as From Away, who finished fourth, came back to win two stakes. Lady Struck Gold, who finished third, won her maiden next out.

McGaughey had thought about running La Reina in the Astarita Stakes, at 6 1/2 furlongs, on Oct. 12 at Belmont Park, but opted to wait for the Tempted in part for the one-mile distance.

"She's still got some things to learn, but she's talented and the added distance is going to help her," said McGaughey, who won the Tempted in 1991 with Deputation and in 1998 with Oh What a Windfall.

La Reina breaks from the rail under John Velazquez in the eight-horse field.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Tempted the last two years with Smok'n Frolic (2001) and Chimichurri (2002). Tuesday, he'll saddle Sisti's Pride, a daughter of Forestry who has only a maiden win in five starts. Following her maiden win at Saratoga, Sisti's Pride faded to fifth in the Grade 1 Matron after being part of a three-ply speed duel. Most recently, Sisti's Pride finished second as the favorite in the Irish Sonnet Stakes at Delaware Park.

"Just outrun by a better filly on the day," Pletcher said of Sisti's Pride's last race. "I always thought she was a nice filly. I think she'll improve mentally down the road. She's still learning how to run."

Sisti's Pride breaks from post 2 under Edgar Prado.

Eye Dazzler could be an interesting value play breaking from the outside post. She has run two of her better races when breaking from the outside, including a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Matron. In the Frizette, Eye Dazzler broke from post 2 when she finished a well-beaten sixth. Pablo Fragoso rides from trainer Mark Hennig.