08/09/2001 11:00PM

Once again, Alabama coming up big

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The Travers for 3-year-olds has been Saratoga's signature race since opening day in 1864, but the Alabama for 3-year-old fillies has produced a good deal of outstanding sport and occasionally overshadows the colts' race.

Calumet Farm's Twilight Tear, one of the greatest fillies to run in this country in the 20th century, was 1-20 in the Alabama of 1944. She got in a speed duel with Thread o' Gold, however, and the latter's stablemate, Vienna, came on to win, just as planned by trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons.

Chris Evert had a brilliant campaign in 1974, winning the Acorn, the Mother Goose, and the Coaching Club American Oaks for a sweep of the NYRA triple crown for fillies. In a match race against Miss Musket at Hollywood Park she won by 50 lengths. But in the Alabama that August, Fred Hooper's Quaze Quilt led all the way to upset the heavy favorite.

Alfred G. Vanderbilt's Next Move, the Coaching Club American Oaks winner and an outstanding filly of 1950, couldn't hold off Busanda in the Alabama Stakes and lost by a neck to the hard-hitting filly who later became the dam of Buckpasser.

Next weekend's Alabama could be one of the best. It features two outstanding daughters of Seattle Slew: Flute, smashing winner of the Kentucky Oaks, and Fleet Renee,who captured the Ashland smartly and galloped to victory in the Mother Goose.

Tweedside, who won the CCA OAks by almost eight lengths, is also pointing for the Alabama, as is Dancethruthedawn, the filly who beat the colts in Canada's classic Queen's Plate.

Exogenous, runner-up in the CCA Oaks, will challenge, and so will Real Cozzy, second in the Mother Goose.

It is an exceptional field, but Bobby Frankel learned to have confidence in Flute. She has yet to let him down, and appears to be coming to the Alabama in fine order. She is owned and was bred by the Juddmonte Farm of Prince Khalid Abdullah, didn't start as a 2-year-old until December, and came to hand rapidly for her knowledgeable trainer.

"She has a wonderful personality," Franklel notes. "I enjoy working with her. She has ability and I particularly like the was she finishes. She is always coming on strong at the end, like Felix Trinidad, the boxer. That's why I am not concerned about her getting the mile and a quarter of the Alabama."

Jerry Bailey, who rode Flute to win the Kentucky Oaks and the prep race she had here here a couple of weeks ago, is not available for the mount in the Alabama. A prior commitment will take him to the Arlington Million. But Frankel has engaged Edgar Prado, who is enjoying a fine meeting .

If Flute performs to expectations, Frankel will send her to Belmont Park for one race as a stepping stone to the Breeders' Cup Distaff. She seems to operate best with plenty of time between starts and her trainer is willing to accommodate her.

In praise of the 'Prince'

Though he carried a steadying 158 pounds in his first race since leaving the novice ranks, Augustin Stable's New Zealand-bred Praise the Prince was a solid favorite at 3-5 in Thursday's $75,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase, a prelude to the $100,000 New York Turf Writers' Cup on Aug. 30.

Praise the Prince wasn't interested in heroics on an impossibly warm and humid afternoon. He merely kept up with the small fieldto the final jump, took command with authority, and won by more than four lengths under Gus Brown. He wasn't beating a top field but he handled himself well under a lot of weight and looks to have a future.

Praise the Prince was part of a three-horse package imported from New Zealand by George Strawbridge, owner of Augustin Stable, who has long admired that country' s produce as a source of stamina. Strawbridge turned over Praise the Prince to his stepdaughter, Sanna Neilson, and that capable young woman, an outstanding rider over jumps a few years ago, has made the most of the opportunity. Praise the Prince has won 6 of 8 starts over jumps, and is a winner on the flat as well.

Strawbridge advises that no decision has been made with regard to the New York Turf Writers' Cup. Praise the Prince would have to pick up some weight off his Smithwick triumph, so there will be many factors in the decision, including the weather and the condition of the course. Whatever the choice, we are likely to hear more from Praise the Prince, and from his skillful young trainer.