07/01/2003 11:00PM

Lukas seeks fifth Debutante

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - D. Wayne Lukas has won the Debutante Stakes four times, and surely the Hall of Fame trainer wouldn't mind getting "one for the thumb" Friday at Churchill Downs when the Debutante is run for the 103rd time.

Lukas is represented by two of the nine 2-year-old fillies entered in the $100,000 Debutante, and both have the look of major contenders.

Be Gentle, a romping winner in her lone appearance, and Renaissance Lady, already stakes-placed from just two starts, both have displayed the kind of ability that could give their trainer a fifth Debutante. Be Gentle is owned by Tom VanMeter and Renaissance Lady is owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis.

Their task will not be easy, considering the talent that also has been shown by several other fillies in the Debutante, a Grade 3 race at 5 1/2 furlongs. One of those with considerable promise is Sweet Romance, a Dale Romans-trained filly who rallied from just off the pace to win her first and only start June 15.

"This looks like a tough race, but I've got a nice filly and I think she can move forward off her maiden win," said Romans, who, after tying for each of the last three spring titles, will claim his first solo training title at Churchill when the 52-day meet ends Sunday.

Sweet Jo Jo, trained by Steve Asmussen, also looked sharp in the only start of her career, winning by 6 1/2 lengths at Lone Star Park May 30. Asmussen has had another outstanding spring at Churchill and trails only Romans in the trainer standings.

Lady's Room, trained by Becky Maker, is a possible Debutante sleeper. Maker is a former longtime exercise rider for Lukas. Lady's Room, a New Jersey-bred, won an Arlington maiden race by eight lengths in her last start June 15.

Completing the field are Cryptos' Best, Thesmellofhoney, Go Grace Go, and In Rome.

The Debutante, which dates to 1895, is the 10th of 11 races on a Friday card that also includes two stakes-quality allowance races. Belle of Perintown and Souris, the one-three finishers in the Pocahontas here last fall, clash again in the fourth race, and Repository and Crystal Sea, one-two in the Stravinsky at Keeneland in April, are part of a full field of filly and mare turf sprinters in the ninth.

First post Friday is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.