06/01/2001 12:00AM

Nassau to Heliotrope yet again?


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Heliotrope, last year's champion turf female, will try to win the $196,175 Nassau Stakes for the second straight year Sunday at Woodbine.

The 1 1/16-mile turf race drew a diverse field of eight fillies and mares, including American invaders Zeiting and Great Fever.

After missing most of 1999 with an injury, Heliotrope had a remarkable 2000 campaign. She won four of nine starts, including the Grade 3 Nassau by a nose after running fourth in the allowance prep for the race.

Heliotrope won this year's Nassau prep with relative ease two weeks ago, earning a 95 Beyer Speed Figure, by covering a mile over firm ground in 1:35.80. Trainer David Bell believes she may be better than ever this year.

"She caught a yielding turf in last year's prep and didn't handle it very well," Bell said. "She was coming back from a tendon injury last year, so I babied her along a little. She seems to be more settled this year. Before, it was always a job to get her rated, even if she was on the lead. Now, she just goes along with whatever's happening."

Zeiting, trained by Christophe Clement, has been absent since Jan. 7, when she was beaten a length while ending up fifth in the Grade 3 Honey Fox Handicap at Gulfstream. She took the Genter Handicap in her previous outing at Calder, and was a listed winner in France in 1999.

Great Fever, who's based in Chicago with trainer Wayne Catalano, comes off a handy score over Free Vacation in a classified allowance at Keeneland.

Rounding out the Nassau field are Alexis, Diadella, Ahead by a Century, Only to You and Bristol Pistol.

Alexis, who finished fifth in the 2000 Nassau after winning the prep, was a closing third in this year's prep in her first start for trainer C.C. Hopmans.

"She had a little time off over the winter," said Hopmans, "and I don't think there's any question she needed the race. She'll get a lot out of it fitness-wise, and we're looking for a stronger race from her in the Nassau."

Ahead by a Century, a versatile 5-year-old, exits a fourth-place finish on dirt in the Whimsical Stakes. She notched a minor grass stakes here as a sophomore and can handle either surface.

"She was flying on end [in the Whimsical] and got beat a length for all the money," said trainer Bob Tiller. "I think she's a little better on turf, but on any given day when she's in the mood, she can win on anything."