11/06/2002 12:00AM

No rushing Roxelana


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Veteran trainer Blackie Huffman wanted to ease Roxelana back into her racing career, and the feature race Friday at Churchill Downs fits that plan perfectly. The $58,200 allowance race is a spot that permits Roxelana to dodge bullets she would have faced Saturday in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Distaff. She will be heavily favored to take down the winner's share against this much softer field.

Roxelana, bred and owned by Bill Landes III, longtime manger of Hermitage Farm, was retired in early 2001 after having proven herself one of the most exciting fillies of her class. After winning her first four starts by a combined 29 lengths, Roxelana lost her next three races, prompting Landes to send her to the breeding shed.

But early this year, Roxelana lost her first foal, a colt by Carson City, leading Landes to reconsider his options. Because Roxelana's physical stature is not ideally suited for matings in the immediate future, Landes said he would give her another turn as a racehorse while she waits for another chance at motherhood.

The result is a plus for racing fans who enjoy seeing a horse such as Roxelana perform. In September at Turfway Park, Huffman raced her for the first time in nearly 20 months, and she responded with a clear-cut victory in a money-allowance race.

Friday, when she squares off against seven other fillies and mares, Roxelana, now 5, will be making the second start of her comeback. Huffman had considered the Raven Run Stakes last month at Keeneland, but when the mare came down with a temperature that briefly interrupted her training, he bypassed that race in favor of one at the Churchill meet.

The CD Distaff, a Grade 2 race to be run here Saturday, might have been the next spot if Friday's allowance race had not filled. But it did, and Roxelana figures as a deserving odds-on choice in the ninth of 10 Friday races, which goes at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Freefourracing, part of a Bernie Flint entry, is probably the main threat to Roxelana, partly because leading rider Pat Day has accepted the call.

The Friday card includes two other allowances (races four and seven). The likely favorite in the seventh is My Boston Gal, a Carl Nafzger-trained filly who won with extreme ease in her first and only start at Keeneland.

* Racing will be conducted here Monday because of the Veterans Day holiday. Admission is free. Tuesday will replace Monday as a dark day.

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