07/12/2006 12:00AM

Melhor Ainda starts season in Capades


ELMONT, N.Y. - With most of the major races for grass fillies and mares run in the second half of the year, trainer Bobby Frankel saw no reason to rush Melhor Ainda back to the races coming off season-ending ankle surgery last fall.

But in order to be ready for races such as the Beverly D., Flower Bowl, and Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, it is now time to get started. Melhor Ainda will begin her 4-year-old campaign Friday at Belmont Park in the $65,000 Capades Stakes at 1 1/16 miles over Belmont's Widener Turf Course.

The Capades will be Melhor Ainda's first start since last Oct. 1 when she finished seventh as the 8-5 favorite in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational over this course. Though Frankel wasn't happy with the ride John Velazquez gave Melhor Ainda that day, he also said the filly came out of the race needing chips surgically removed from both ankles.

Prior to the Flower Bowl, Melhor Ainda had run well in all six of her starts, winning four, including the Grade 3 Sands Point. She finished second to the Japanese sensation Cesario in the Grade 1 American Oaks at Hollywood Park and was third, beaten a neck, to the older fillies Angara and Megahertz in the Beverly D. at Arlington.

In the Flower Bowl, Melhor Ainda was wide and made a premature move to get into contention before dropping back.

, a daughter of Pulpit, wintered at Michelle Dollase's farm in Kentucky before joining Frankel at Churchill Downs in April. She shows 11 works for her return since then, but Frankel said the filly isn't 100 percent cranked up. Still, Frankel expects a winning effort "unless some superstar shows up," he said.

Velazquez will ride Melhor Ainda from post 4 under 118 pounds.

There are a number of serious challengers to Melhor Ainda, chief among them being is also entered in this spot.

Also in the race is . A Grade 1 winner on dirt, she finished eighth in her only try on turf in the Grade 3 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill on Derby Day.

"She ran good, I thought she should have run better," trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said. "Maybe she didn't like that turf course. I know she's training very, very good. We'll see what happens."