06/30/2004 11:00PM

'Michelle' in ideal stalking spot


ELMONT, N.Y. - California shipper Friendly Michelle could end up the lukewarm favorite in Saturday's $250,000 Prioress at Belmont Park, the only Grade 1 stakes run in this country for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs on the dirt.

Twelve were entered in the Prioress but only 10 will start. There are two entries in the race and the same rider was named on both horses in each entry, which means only one part of each entry can start. Trainer Todd Pletcher has named John Velazquez on Bohemian Lady, who is the expected starter, and on Frenchglen. Trainer Bobby Frankel entered Aspen Gal and Reforest with Aaron Gryder named on both.

Friendly Michelle won the Grade 3 La Troienne at Churchill in April. Trained by Bob Baffert, Friendly Michelle turns back in distance after finishing third in the Grade 1 Acorn at a mile on June. 4. Friendly Michelle is 4 for 5 in races under a mile.

Friendly Michelle, who could carve out a perfect trip behind the speed, drew post 10 and Corey Nakatani.

This year, Forest Music is 2 for 2 in stakes for trainer Mark Shuman. Forest Music has early speed, but came from off the pace to win the Grade 3 Miss Preakness after getting bumped at the start. In her last start, Forest Music set the pace to win the Crank It Up Stakes at Monmouth.

"She's fast, but you can place her wherever you want her," Shuman said.

Feline Story again meets She's a Mugs, who beat her by a head in the Funistrada Stakes on June 12.

Feline Story, a stakes winner at Belmont, set the pace from the rail in the Funistrada.

"It was disappointing because turning for home she had a comfortable lead," said Stanley Hough, Feline Story's trainer. "Maybe it was because she had to use herself from the one-hole."

Feline Story drew post 4 and Javier Castellano.

California shipper Very Vegas, who figures to be on or near the early lead from post 8, is a stakes winner on dirt and turf.

"One thing about her, is she likes to run freely," Very Vegas's trainer, Marcelo Polanco, said. "That's what she does best."

Jose Santos rides Very Vegas, whose Beyer Speed Figures are a cut below her rivals.

Before entries were drawn, Frankel said he would run the horse who got the better post, meaning an outside draw. Aspen Gal drew post 6, while stablemate Reforest drew 2.

Bending Strings, who breaks from the rail under Jerry Bailey, was a 4 3/4-length winner of the Nassau County Breeders' Cup on May 8.

"I'd love a repeat of the Nassau, but she doesn't have to win by that far. I would settle for a nose," said Kiaran McLaughlin, Bending Strings' trainer. "I'd like to see her settle behind the speed."

New York-bred Rodeo Licious, a front-runner, is undefeated in three starts at Belmont, including two stakes. Why You, the runner-up to Frenchglen in the restricted Jersey Girl on May 26, is trained by Allen Jerkens, who won the Prioress last year with House Party.