01/31/2003 1:00AM

Old Hat, new season


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Todd Pletcher hopes Sunday's $100,000 Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream Park will be a launching pad to bigger and better things for Chimichurri in 2003. A graded stakes winner at 2, Chimichurri opens her 3-year-old campaign against six other fillies in the six-furlong Old Hat.

Chimichurri, a daughter of Elusive Quality, closed out her 2-year-old season with a 1 1/4-length victory in Aqueduct's Grade 3 Tempted Stakes at a mile. It was her third win from her last four starts (she was third over a sloppy track in the Grade 2 Astarita).

"She's trained very well since coming down here," said Pletcher, who trains Chimichurri for the Peachtree Stable. "She should give a good account of herself on Sunday."

Pletcher said he will keep Chimichurri sprinting for now, even though she did get a mile in her 2-year-old finale.

"Although she's got the right disposition to stretch out and has proven rateable, anything beyond a mile would probably be a bonus," said Pletcher. "I'd say the big goal down the road would be a race like the Test," which is run at seven furlongs at Saratoga.

While Chimichurri is the only graded winner in the Old Hat, she does face several talented rivals, including the red-hot Ebony Breeze and the Allen Jerkens-trained pair of House Party and Kitty Knight.

Ebony Breeze comes off a pair of one-sided victories, including a win in Tampa Bay Downs's Sandpiper Stakes, which she won by a widening 6 3/4 lengths. Trained by Bill Mott, Ebony Breeze displayed some versatility by winning from off the pace in the Sandpiper after having won her maiden going wire to wire.

House Party finished third as the 4-5 favorite in the five-furlong Dame Mysterieuse Stakes here on Jan. 5, breaking last after hitting the gate at the break.

"Not getting away on time going five furlongs is never a good idea," Jerkens said.

House Party blew out a strong three furlongs in 35 seconds on Friday.

Kitty Knight won her only two starts in convincing fashion but has been away since Oct. 14 and will face far and away her sternest test yet in the Old Hat.

Follow Me Home upset the Dame Mysterieuse, leading throughout for a three-quarter-length win over Something Silver. She will be the horse to catch on Sunday.

Eternal Cup and Glorious Miss round out the starting lineup.

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