04/28/2003 11:00PM

La Troienne card gets weekend going


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - This is the day that Derby fever starts to heat up. The Thursday before the Kentucky Derby is when many out-of-town fans start filtering into Louisville, ready to yell and party and bet and whatever else it is that fired-up horseplayers do.

Nearly 20,000 of those racing denizens will get a head start on Derby weekend by turning out at Churchill Downs. The $100,000 La Troienne Stakes is the highlight of a 10-race card that also includes the $100,000 Mamzelle Stakes, the $100,000 Hard Scuffle Steeplechase, three allowances, and one starter allowance.

The Grade 3 La Troienne, a seven-furlong race that occasionally serves as a springboard to stardom within the 3-year-old filly division, drew a field of seven, with Stellar the most obvious candidate to further progress. A precocious sort trained by Patrick Biancone, Stellar will be making her first start in eight months, having finished second in the Adirondack and fourth in the Spinaway to close out an abbreviated juvenile campaign.

Probably her toughest opposition will come from Final Round, a late-running filly trained by Rusty Arnold, or Lovely Sage, a Tom Amoss-trained filly who reverts to sprinting after a failed try in the two-turn Fair Grounds Oaks.

Maybe the most interesting starter is Just Bill Me, who will be making her first start for co-owner and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer after winning five of seven starts against lesser company in south Florida.

"We just purchased her a short time ago and brought her into Keeneland to start working with her," said Hollendorfer. "She seems like a nice filly."

The rest of the La Troienne field is Real Bear, Fast Cookie, and Crow Jane.