09/22/2004 11:00PM

Looks like Old Hilltop II


The last time Western Ransom and Art Fan raced in Maryland, they finished one-two, separated by less than a length.

Nearly five months have passed since then, but when the two 3-year-old fillies return to Pimlico for Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 Martha Washington, they could be quite close at the wire again.

Western Ransom, who won the May 8 Old Hilltop as the even-money favorite, and Art Fan, beaten three-quarters of a length in that race at 12-1, are the most accomplished turf runners in a full field of 12, plus an also-eligible, for the 1 1/16-mile Martha Washington.

Trained by Michael Dickinson, Western Ransom went on to finish second in the Grade 3 Regret at Churchill Downs. She will be making her first start since winding up 10th of 13 in the Grade 1 American Oaks at Hollywood Park.

Ryan Fogelsonger will ride Western Ransom for the first time since she last raced at Pimlico.

"Hopefully this will be a repeat of the Old Hilltop," Fogelsonger said. "She is a very nice horse and is going to be tough to beat. She runs good numbers and is consistent every time. I have confidence she'll be sharp."

Art Fan, trained by Hamilton Smith, may have surpassed Western Ransom since they last faced each other. She put together a string of three consecutive 90-plus Beyer Speed Figures during the summer, including a 97 for her win in the Virginia Oaks at Colonial Downs. Art Fan's three top Beyers all exceed Western Ransom's career-best 91 for her second-place finish in the Appalachian at Keeneland.

Perilous Night rallied from far back to finish within 3 1/4 lengths of the winner when she faced older runners in her turf debut last month at Mountaineer. The runner-up, Chance Dance, returned to win a $75,000 stakes with a 91 Beyer on Sept. 6.

Plenty, a front-runner, is a nose shy of being 3 for 3 on turf while racing in New York.

Saree, second in a Grade 3 in Canada as a 2-year-old, returns after being freshened by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who is very sharp with horses returning from long layoffs.

* Dance Away Capote, runner-up in the six-furlong Sorority at Monmouth Park last time out, looks imposing in the $50,000 Irish Sonnet, a one-mile overnight stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Delaware Park.