12/20/2001 1:00AM

Open Story facing softer in Gowell

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When Dale Romans ran Open Story off a short layoff in an entry-level allowance at the Churchill Downs fall meet, the trainer had reason to expect that the filly could win. After all, Open Story had run well enough to dead heat for win against colts in the Three Chimneys Juvenile on Kentucky Derby Day.

But that seemingly ordinary Nov. 21 allowance race just happened to attract Lake Lady, a filly that trainer Steve Asmussen has said might become the best horse he has ever trained. And it attracted Colonial Glitter, who finished third as the favorite against Cashier's Dream in the Debutante Stakes in July.

Predictably, Open Story finished third that day, behind Lake Lady and Colonial Glitter. On Saturday, when she takes what amounts to a sideways step in class in the $50,000 Gowell Stakes at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., Open Story figures to benefit from having run against such tough opponents in her latest start.

Twelve 2-year-old fillies, the maximum allowable at Turfway, are scheduled to clash in the six-furlong Gowell, which highlights a 10-race program. Open Story, a gray Florida-bred owned by Ron McKee, drew the inside post, and the filly next to her in post 2, Proud Little Phony, might be her most formidable opposition.

Proud Little Phony made a torrid rush along the rail to win the Gowell prep nine days ago. Owned and trained by Wayne Bearden, Proud Little Phony is one of the most experienced fillies in the field, having already raced eight times.

Among the other contenders are Southern Dream, a two-time winner for leading trainer Bernie Flint, and Prado Queen, a game runner-up in the Gowell prep.

The Gowell is the second-to-last stakes of the holiday meet, preceding its brother race, for 2-year-old colts, the Dec. 29 Florence Stakes. The holiday meet ends Dec. 31, with the winter-spring meet beginning the next afternoon.

Hawthorne: Hickey enters trio

Noel Hickey's once invulnerable empire started showing cracks a few years ago when he, by his own admission, rolled the dice and lost.

Hickey, who in the early to mid-1990's was the undisputed king of Chicago trainers, primarily breeds and races his own horses in the name of his Ocala, Fla.-based Irish Acres Farm. But when Hickey essentially put all his faith in one stallion, Slew the Slewor, the results were disappointing, and Hickey eventually became a non-factor in Chicago.

Having sold Slew the Slewor and shifted his emphasis to the more proven sire Tour d'Or, Hickey is mounting something of a comeback. Hickey, 74, will run as many as three horses Saturday in the $100,000 Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity at Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney, Ill.

The Futurity, long a gauge of divisional power among statebred 2-year-olds, drew a field of 11, with unbeaten Mucho Rapido likely to be favored.

But the three-ply Hickey entry, led by the impressive recent allowance winner Colorful Tour, clearly merits major consideration in the 1 1/16-mile race.

Hickey is excited about how Tour d'Or is allowing him to rebuild with success. "We have a lot of nice young horses by him," he said.

Colorful Tour and Riverdance Tour, who finished a distant fourth behind Mucho Rapido in a key Dec. 5 race, are both by Tour d'Or, while Hickey's third entrant, Afleet Buck, is by one of Irish Acres Farm's foundation sires, Bucksplasher.

Mucho Rapido, trained by Harvey Vanier, likely will head to Florida for the winter if he runs as his connections believe he will.

"He's training very well," said Vanier assistant Brian Williamson. "He's only had two real easy breezes since that last win because he hasn't had to do much. He's fit."