09/08/2006 11:00PM

Pine Island gathers momentum in Gazelle

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Pine Island, under Javier Castellano, posts her second straight Grade 1 victory in Saturday's $250,000 Gazelle.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Bushfire was a multiple Grade 1 winner this year before Pine Island had even started in a stakes race. But there's little doubt now that Pine Island has at least caught up to Bushfire in the 3-year-old filly division.

Three weeks after winning the Grade 1 Alabama, Pine Island put forth an equally impressive performance to win Saturday's Grade 1, $250,000 by one length over Teammate. It was nine lengths back to Last Romance in third. Bushfire, making her first start since beating Pine Island by three-quarters of a length in the Mother Goose on July 1, finished fifth, beaten 14 3/4 lengths.

Trainer Shug McGaughey said he wheeled Pine Island back in three weeks because he felt a victory over Bushfire in the Gazelle would give his filly momentum heading into a likely showdown between the two in the Breeders' Cup Distaff on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs.

Asked if he felt Pine Island's victory put her on equal footing with Bushfire, McGaughey said, "I would have to think so, yes."

After bobbling at the break under Javier Castellano, Pine Island settled into fifth position down the backside while Bushfire opened up a 1o1/2-length lead running fractions of 23.87 seconds and 46.92 for the opening half-mile. Teammate engaged Bushfire midway down the backstretch. Those two were heads apart at the three-furlong maker.

Bushfire faded in upper stretch, while Teammate opened up slightly. Pine Island came outside Teammate turning for home, collared her inside the eighth pole, and finished strongly for the one-length victory. Pine Island ($4.10), owned and bred by the Phipps Stable, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.93.

"In the Alabama I had to work a little bit and she responded, but she's gotten better and better, and today at the three-eighths pole she went right behind the two speed horses, and when I asked her at the quarter pole and turning for home, voom she goes by [Teammate]," Castellano said.

Eddie Kenneally, the trainer of Bushfire, said he simply felt his filly got tired in her first start off a 10-week layoff.

"A mile and an eighth is quite a ways to go off a 10-week layoff against these quality fillies," Kenneally said. "She might have gotten a little tired is how I'm looking at it, and that's kind of how Edgar [Prado] feels as well. Now we got the benefit of this race out of the way. I think we'll do fine."