09/19/2001 11:00PM

Miss Indiana is class of Lassie


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Unsettled and baffling, Chicago's 2-year-old filly division begins coming to order on Saturday, with the $150,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie, Illinois's most important race of the season for juvenile fillies.

As of Wednesday, Arlington Park racing officials expected a full field, but after several defections Thursday morning, followed by a couple late additions, nine fillies entered the Grade 3 Lassie. Run around one turn at a flat mile, the race is a stepping-stone to major route stakes this fall such as the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Caressing, second in last year's Lassie, went on to capture the Breeders' Cup race and a championship.

Chaos, and perhaps mediocrity, reigns in the local colony. Maiden-claiming horses ran one-two in the Top Flight Stakes, the major prep for the Lassie, and no superior 2-year-old filly has emerged here all season.

That leaves the New York shipper Miss Indiana almost certain to be a strong favorite. Miss Indiana has made a tour of East's two boutique meets, Keeneland and Saratoga, and won at both. In April, she won a Keeneland maiden race, and returning from a four-month layoff, she won an Aug. 29 Saratoga allowance.

If there's a dent in her armor, it's the Lassie's one-mile distance and a poor post position draw. Miss Indiana's pedigree is slanted to speed, and she has been on the pace in both of her starts.

"Previous to her last start, I would have questioned it," trainer Steve Asmussen said of his filly's route capability. "But she has trained better coming out of that race."

Miss Indiana, owned by Keith Asmussen and Ocean Front Property, breaks from post one under jockey Shane Laviolette, and the rail draw forces her to leave the gate running. Glenbriar Girl and Joanies Bella, the latter the winner of the $100,000 Bassinet Stakes in her last start, also can contest the pace.

A speed battle sets the table for several horses, including Top Flight winner Vicki Vallencourt, or either one of two fillies entered by trainer Mike Stidham, the Three King Stable's Brief Bliss and Leeward City. Like Miss Indiana, Vicki Vallencourt is 2 for 2, and she won the Top Flight with a late outside run.

"She's a nice big filly, and I'd think she'd run long, especially a one-turn mile," trainer Hugh Robertson said.

*Also on Saturday's card is the Top Corsage, featuring Modesty Handicap winner Ioya Two and a Frank Calabrese-owned entry of Great Fever and Golden Antigua. Golden Antigua is likely to be scratched.