08/23/2004 11:00PM

Mile a better distance for Belleski

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Five furlongs was too abrupt for Belleski last time. Coupled with an eight-month layoff, the distance conspired to get her beat. She will have a much better chance in Thursday's featured seventh race at Del Mar, in which she will stretch out to one mile on turf, and with the benefit of that recent prep.

The feature race, an optional claimer, carries a $70,000 purse. Of the eight horses in the race, only Magnificent Val is entered for the optional $100,000 claiming price, and she is not certain to run.

is at her best going 6 1/2 furlongs down Santa Anita's hillside turf course, and that is where she is headed following Thursday's race. Her trainer, John Sadler, believes a mile better suits her than a five-furlong race. Last time out, Belleski's chances were compromised by having to steady shortly after the start, and then again at the top of the stretch.

"She's in a good spot and moving forward," Sadler said. "Five-eighths was a little short for her, especially with the trouble she had. She's worked well twice since then."

If Belleski is at her best, she should have this field at her mercy. She has won 5 of 12 starts, and though she is better in an elongated sprint, she has won around two turns. She is the defending champion in the Ken Maddy Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, and that is where Sadler intends to run her next.

"We took a chip out of an ankle after she ran in the Matriarch last fall," Sadler said. "The plan was to come back and do more, then go to the breeding shed in 2005."

Trainer Bill Spawr has entered both against Belleski, but he said only one would run. Whichever filly is scratched will be pointed to the restricted Piedra Foundation Handicap on Sept. 2.

Market Garden comes off a sharp, second-place finish in the five-furlong Daisycutter Handicap, in which she finished a half-length in front of Belleski.

"She didn't break, and then she got stopped," Spawr said. "She got pushed extremely wide. If you watch the tape, you'll see she was the best filly."

Magnificent Val, like Market Garden, was a recent claim on behalf of owners Sid and Jenny Craig. She has finished no worse than second in seven starts this year, including a second-place finish going 1 1/16 miles here the first week of the meet.