05/26/2004 11:00PM

Meridiana vs. Alternate in rematch


ELMONT, N.Y. - Meridiana and Alternate, separated by a nose in last month's Bewitch Stakes at Keeneland, renew acquaintances Saturday in the Grade 2, $150,000 Sheepshead Bay Handicap at Belmont Park.

brings a three-race winning streak into the Sheepshead Bay for trainer Christophe Clement, who has won this 1 3/8-mile race three times since 1993.

While she came from off the pace to win the Grade 3 Bewitch, Meridiana won the Grade 2 Orchid Handicap at Gulfstream Park in March in gate-to-wire fashion. Meridiana's versatility may give her an edge in a field that lacks any true speed.

"She's a nice filly, she's consistent, she's game,'' Clement said. "You can do whatever you want, on the pace, off the pace, whatever; and she stays.''

Meridiana, a German-bred filly, won the Group 1 Italian Oaks last year in her only start at 1 3/8 miles. Her last two wins have come at 1 1/2 miles. Edgar Prado rides Meridiana, the co-highweight at 119 pounds, from post 8.

Alternate, a daughter of Seattle Slew, has lost her last four starts since taking the Robert G. Dick Memorial Handicap at Delaware last July. Trainer Graham Motion added blinkers to her equipment that day, and four of her five races since have been very good.

In two starts this year, was beaten a half-length in the Hillsborough Handicap at Tampa Bay and a nose in the Bewitch. Motion explained that Alternate got carried out in the stretch of the Hillsborough. In the Bewitch, Alternate was forced to go four wide while Meridiana rallied up the rail.

Motion believes Alternate is a better filly this year than last, and the marathon races suit her style best.

"The reason she likes the longer races is she's got a high galloping speed. She'll just go all day,'' Motion said.

looks to be coming back to the form that made her a Grade 2 winner last fall. She may have been a little short and did not receive the best ride when sixth, beaten 2 1/2 lengths in the Orchid at Gulfstream. She got a useful race when second against males in a Churchill Downs allowance race on April 29. Best of all, she gets the services of Jerry Bailey for the first time.

"I thought she ran a tremendous race at Churchill and she came out of that race bouncing,'' trainer John Pregman said.

Completing the field are Moscow Burning, winner of a California-bred restricted stakes last out, Andover Lady, Miss Hellie, and Primetimevalentine.