10/02/2002 12:00AM

Leaping into a big spot

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Atlantic Ocean seems to be doing everything exponentially.

She was bought for a mere $31,000 as a yearling, then sold five months later for an incredible $1.9 million, and Atlantic Ocean has shown a similar tendency for fast advancement as a racing prospect. Badly beaten in two races to begin her career, she won a maiden race at Del Mar, then made a quantum leap with a dominant victory in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies at Turfway Park.

Friday, when Atlantic Ocean steps into graded company for the first time in the $400,000 Walmac International Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland, trainer Bob Baffert would like nothing more than to see her continue to progress by leaps and bounds.

"This was a big deal, her winning like this," Baffert said after the Kentucky Cup. "We always thought she was something special. Hopefully she'll keep it going."

Atlantic Ocean, owned by The Thoroughbred Corp., will be attempting to use the 1 1/16-mile Alcibiades as a final stepping-stone to the Oct. 26 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, which will be run at 1 1/8 miles. Baffert is confident that more ground will favor Atlantic Ocean, whose two losses both came in sprints.

Atlantic Ocean, a Florida-bred by the little-known sire Stormy Atlantic, will start from post 8 in a field of nine 2-year-old fillies. Jerry Bailey picks up the mount from Mike Smith.

Probably the top threats to Atlantic Ocean in the Grade 2 Alcibiades are Final Round, who most recently won the off-the-grass Junior Champion at Monmouth Park, and Caucus, a five-length winner in an Arlington maiden race. Ruby's Reception and Midnight Cry rank as fringe contenders.

The Alcibiades is carded as the sixth of nine Friday races.

Rematch!

Thirteen days after meeting in the serenity of rural Kentucky Downs, the top four finishers in the Kentucky Cup Turf Dash are rematched Friday in the $75,000 Nureyev Stakes.

Red Lightning won the $100,000 Turf Dash, for the richest victory in the 18-year training career of Jeff Thornbury, but a repeat will not be easy. Not only will Red Lightning, a 4-year-old gelding, again have to beat Aloha Bold, Mighty Beau, and Brown Eyed Major, but new shooters such as Manofglory and Gone Fishin are also dangers in what should be a terrific betting race.

The turf-course maximum of 10 is scheduled to run in the 5 1/2-furlong Nureyev (race four).