06/28/2006 11:00PM

Mother Goose matches 3 of the best

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Lemons Forever, winning the Kentucky Oaks at 47-1, enters Saturday's Mother Goose off an eight-week layoff.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Three of the top 3-year-old fillies in training arrived in New York from Kentucky on Thursday afternoon for Saturday's Grade 1, $250,000 at Belmont Park. One could leave here with a claim as the midseason divisional leader.

Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever, multiple Grade 1 stakes winner Bushfire, and multiple Grade 3 stakes winner Joint Effort head a strong seven-horse field entered for the Mother Goose. The Mother Goose shares top billing with the Grade 1, $400,000 Suburban on a 10-race card.

Run at 1 1/8 miles, the Mother Goose marks the first start for Lemons Forever since she upset the Kentucky Oaks at odds of 47-1. In the Oaks, Lemons Forever broke from post 14 and was last at the half-mile pole before launching a sustained bid to make the lead inside the sixteenth pole.

"The race she ran in the Oaks was really something," said trainer Dallas Stewart, who is also part owner of Lemons Forever. "She made a run from the half-mile pole, and she passed every horse in a dead run, seven wide. It was so impressive it took my breath away and brought me to tears. To see something you own and train run like that, it was quite astounding. Can she come back with that type of race? You never know."

Stewart said the eight weeks between races was by design, in part because Lemons Forever is "not a real big horse." Lemons Forever has worked only three times since the Oaks, including a bullet five-furlong move in 59 seconds June 16.

"She's training as well as she did before the Oaks," Stewart said. "The last week has been unbelievable. She's trained so well."

Mark Guidry will ride Lemons Forever from post 3.

Bushfire has won three stakes this year, including the Ashland and Acorn, both Grade 1 events. In the Acorn, run at Belmont, Bushfire came back on Hello Liberty after Hello Liberty passed her in midstretch. Bushfire is winless in two starts at 1 1/8 miles, but trainer Eddie Kenneally said he doesn't believe the distance is a problem.

Bushfire caught a sloppy track in the nine-furlong Davona Dale and was caught wide on both turns in the Kentucky Oaks, a race in which she finished third but was disqualified to sixth for interference.

"I don't think the distance beat her in the Oaks," Kenneally said. "She got carried wide on both turns, and she got beat 2 3/4 lengths. She lost more than that on the turns."

Bushfire figures to be sent to the lead under Edgar Prado from post 2.

Joint Effort has won 5 of 13 career starts, but has not won beyond one mile. She won the 7 1/2-furlong La Troienne at Churchill coming from off the pace and then won the one-mile Dogwood at Churchill while racing on the pace.

"We wanted to try a Grade 1 race, and we wanted to eventually try a mile and an eighth to see if we should point for the bigger races in the fall," said trainer Dale Romans. "We can get both things done with one swoop."

With Bushfire in the field, Romans said he expects Joint Effort to be in a stalking position under Garrett Gomez.

Before finishing one length behind Joint Effort in the Dogwood, Ready to Please had won three straight, including the Grade 2 Fantasy Stakes. This could be a rare opportunity to get a good price on a horse trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez.

Teammate, who won the Bonnie Miss by six lengths, will try to bounce back from a dismal showing in the Acorn. In between those two races, Teammate was sidelined by a foot bruise.

Pine Island, an off-the-turf maiden winner, and She's Excellent complete the field.

* Belmont will have a sports bag giveaway Saturday.

The field

Mother Goose
Purse: $250,000; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 1

PPHORSEJOCKEYODDS
1TeammateC. Velasquez6-1
2BushfireE. Prado3-1
3Lemons ForeverM. Guidry4-1
4Ready to PleaseJ. Velazquez5-2
5She's ExcellentF. Jara20-1
6Joint EffortG. Gomez7-2
7Pine IslandJ. Castellano8-1

* All starters carry 121 pounds
* Odds by Art Gropper