04/21/2005 11:00PM

A mixed bag of shippers in Appalachian

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - One of the alluring aspects of racing at Keeneland is the inherent variety in any given race. The $100,000 Appalachian Stakes, the feature race Sunday, offers a prime example of such.

Twelve 3-year-old fillies, including two also-eligibles, are entered in the Appalachian, a 1 1/16-mile turf race that will be run for the 17th time. Incredibly, the 12 fillies made their last starts at nine different racetracks, a statistic that illustrates the melting-pot effect at Keeneland.

Such diversity can make a handicapper's chores difficult, to say the least. The favorite in the Appalachian will probably be , a Bobby Frankel-trained filly who was very sharp in winning back-to-back starts on the Belmont turf last fall. Melhor Ainda looked especially good in winning the Miss Grillo in October, and has trained forwardly in recent weeks at Churchill Downs. She has been away from the races for six months, however, and her rivals have had that long to mature and progress.

And there are plenty of challengers from which to choose. Todd Pletcher, who is bearing down on his first Keeneland training title after sending out two more winners Friday, is represented by Paddy's Daisy, a Kentucky-bred filly who already has four wins on grass, including three stakes. Paddy's Daisy was most recently fourth in the Herecomesthebride Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Elliott Walden has an uncoupled pair of Irish-bred fillies in , who comes off a last-to-first allowance victory in her U.S. debut March 30 at Gulfstream.

Another prime contender is , a British-bred filly who also scored in her only race in the U.S., a March 25 allowance at Santa Anita. Wally Dollase is the trainer of Godsend.

Other possibilities include , a winner of her last two races, both on the grass at the Fair Grounds, and Sweet Talker, whose lone attempt on turf resulted in a victory and a 95 Beyer Speed Figure.

The rest of the Appalachian field is Where's Bailey, Isabell's Shoes, Southern, and the two also-eligibles, Smart Voyager and Sweet Solairo.

Besides the Appalachian, which goes as the eighth of nine races, three allowances (races 3, 6, 7) are carded for Sunday, when first post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.

Keeneland goes dark Monday and Tuesday before the final three-day stretch of the meet begins Wednesday. Churchill opens Saturday, April 30.