10/12/2008 12:00AM

Pebbles crowded, wide-open


ELMONT, N.Y. - Monday's $100,000 Pebbles is the last stakes opportunity in New York for 3-year-old fillies to run against their own age group. So it comes as no surprise that 14 were entered for the one-mile race which serves as the featured event on a 10-race Columbus Day card at Belmont Park. Only 12 will be permitted to start.

Because the race lacks a clear-cut favorite, it should offer value for bettors. Meriwether Jessica and Fareena are intriguing plays if they run.

Meriwether Jessica, trained by Linda Rice, was cross-entered for Sunday's $100,000 Xtra Heat Stakes at her preferred distance of six furlongs, but she has to face her elders.

In her lone start at a mile, Meriwether Jessica finished a solid second behind Miss Challenge in a first-level allowance race at Saratoga. Miss Challenge came back to win an overnight stakes here last month. Meriwether Jessica came back to get put up by the stewards in a six-furlong New York-bred stakes. In that race, Meriwether Jessica was rallying along the rail when she was forced to check sharply in midstretch. She re-rallied, outfinishing fellow Pebbles starter Remarkable Remy, while falling a head short to Lost Without You, who caused Meriwether Jessica's problems.

"She had a difficult trip and came back on; you always like to see that,'' Rice said. "She showed that she doesn't have to have things go her way.''

Fareena, trained by Leigh Delacour, won the Denise Rhudy Memorial at Delaware in July, then came back to finish second in between two next-out stakes winners in the Ontario Colleen Stakes at Woodbine on Aug. 30. Delacour wanted to look at the Pebbles field before committing to run. She is also contemplating the $150,000 Valley View on Friday at Keeneland.

Mousse Au Chocolat may go off favored following her half-length loss to Remarkable Remy in an overnight stakes at Saratoga. The winner was able to rally inside while Mousse Au Chocolat had to go four wide.

Blitzen Too has 2 wins and a narrow loss from 3 starts at Belmont for trainer Christophe Clement. Zee Zee won the Edgewood at Churchill earlier this year and was beaten a neck when third to Miss Challenge in the Statuette Stakes here last month.

* Fellow Crasher, winner of the Tyro at Monmouth, heads a field of five 2-year-olds entered in the $75,000 Trapp Mountain Stakes at six furlongs.