08/27/2001 11:00PM

Next up for Caressing: Belmont's Gazelle 'Cap

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CHICAGO - The champion filly Caressing, who turned her 3-year-old season around winning the Singapore Plate Stakes two weeks ago at Arlington Park, will make her next start in the Grade 1 Gazelle Handicap on Sept. 8 at Belmont Park.

"It's either that or leave her in the barn," trainer Dave Vance said Tuesday from his base at Churchill Downs.

The Gazelle, at nine furlongs on the main track, is one of the only suitable spots for Caressing in the near future. During the month of September, it is the only graded dirt stakes race in the country for 3-year-old fillies. Even more difficult for Vance is the fact he has two top horses in the division. To keep them separated, Vance will run Unbridled Elaine, the Monmouth Oaks winner, against males Monday in the $500,000 Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park.

Vance hopes to guide both fillies to a start in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Each will have another start on Oct. 6, on which there are several stakes around the country for fillies and mares, though Vance has yet to choose a particular race for either of them. For Caressing, the Gazelle is something of a tryout for the Distaff, since both are nine-furlong races run around one turn at Belmont. Vance, however, would prefer to see Caressing in two-turn races right now. "She'll have to be [first or second] in the Gazelle for me to consider the Breeders' Cup," Vance said. Caressing, who had lost badly in two starts leading up to the Singapore Plate, is scheduled to work on Sunday at Churchill.

Unbridled Elaine put in a strong work Tuesday at Churchill, going five furlongs in 1:00.20, the second fastest work at the distance. A massive gray filly, Unbridled Elaine has won two starts by a combined 12 lengths since Vance took over her training this summer, but on both occasions has beaten up on inferior company. Her size, and the lack of a better spot, has landed Unbridled Elaine in the Pennsylvania Derby, where she'll face a pair of top colts in Touch Tone and Macho Uno.

"The race is going to come up pretty tough, but we're looking down the road with her," Vance said. "She's ready to run and she needs to run."

Since timely air transport couldn't be arranged, Unbridled Elaine will travel by van to Pennsylvania on Thursday. For Vance, it will be a homecoming of sorts, since he won four training titles at Philadelphia during the mid-1970's.

Feature draws travelin' crowd

They have come from all over to run in Arlington's Thursday feature. Besides a fairly promising group of locals, a second-level turf allowance has drawn entrants that last raced in Kentucky and the East Coast.

The Kentuckians are My Extolled Honor, who barely won an entry-level turf allowance at Ellis Park in his last start, and Butterfly Boy, trainer Bobby Barnett's second starter at this Arlington meet. Mercenary, who makes his first start for trainer Brett Calhoun, has been racing on the East Coast for trainer Bill Mott, and was fourth in a minor Monmouth turf stakes when he last ran.

With Robby Albarado named, Mercenary will attract plenty of betting support, but four others have a big shot: Bundy Rum, Heptagone, Bahroba, and Altered Birdie. As the biggest price of the four, Bundy Rum gets a slight nod based on an impressive entry-level allowance victory on the Churchill turf this summer. Bundy Rum has mixed disappointing races in with that win, but has been freshened by trainer Del Loveland and may be poised for a big race.

Heptagone, who deserves favoritism in dry conditions, has caught wet turf courses in two stakes starts here, but showed high-class ability winning back-to-back grass races at Churchill this summer. Altered Birdie and Bahroba finished three-four in the Awad Stakes here earlier this month.