09/07/2006 12:00AM

Pine Island tries Bushfire once again

Pine Island wins the Alabama last month. On Saturday, she takes on Bushfire, the country's top 3-year-old filly.

ELMONT, N.Y. - In an era when horsemen are seeking more time between races while opting for the softest possible spot, no one would have batted an eye had trainer Shug McGaughey elected not to run Alabama winner Pine Island back in Saturday's Grade 1, $250,000 Gazelle Stakes at Belmont Park.

But McGaughey knows if is to have a realistic chance of usurping Bushfire atop the 3-year-old filly division, he needed another head-to-head meeting with the three-time Grade 1-winning filly. From that standpoint, Saturday's Gazelle is the perfect spot.

Though six were entered, the Gazelle essentially boils down to the speedy Bushfire and the late-running Pine Island. Bushfire defeated Pine Island by three-quarters of a length in the Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes here on July 1.

While has not raced in the 10 weeks since that meeting, Pine Island finished a close second in the Coaching Club American Oaks before winning last month's Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga.

"I think I needed to run against her again," said McGaughey, who seeks his fifth Gazelle victory. "If she was going to run in the Cotillion [at Philadelphia Park] I wasn't going there. I thought the Cotillion was too short. I knew where [Bushfire] was going to go and I thought this would be a good spot to catch her maybe."

Pine Island couldn't catch Bushfire in the Mother Goose. McGaughey believes , the other speed horse in that race, didn't stick with Bushfire long enough in the Mother Goose. Teammate ran a much stronger race in the Alabama, almost stealing the race before Pine Island ran her down. McGaughey is hoping Teammate can entertain Bushfire on the lead in the Gazelle.

"Hopefully we'll come away from there and there'll be some pace in front of us and [jockey Javier Castellano] can let her get into the rhythm of the race and he can start making up some ground around the turn - saving ground - and give her some place to go through the stretch," McGaughey said.

Pine Island will start from post 5.

Eddie Kenneally, the trainer of Bushfire, believes his filly demonstrated the ability to relax in the Mother Goose, enabling her to finish stronger.

"She didn't have the lead for a lot of the race and Edgar [Prado] thought she was happy to relax and not be so aggressive the first part," Kenneally said. "Early in her career she was a little bit too speedy and had to have the lead. Now, with maturity, she's willing to relax which enables her to finish a little better."

Following the Mother Goose, Kenneally gave Bushfire a month of light training before picking up the pace in August. He is happy with the results.

, a Grade 1-winning 2-year-old, finished second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies over this track. She was making her first start in five months when she displaced two ribs by hitting the side of the starting gate while finishing last in an allowance race at Saratoga.

complete the field.

The field

Purse: $250,000; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 1

1Unbridled BelleG. Gomez11520-1
2BushfireE. Prado1225-2
3Last RomanceJ. Velazquez1152-1
4TeammateC. Velasquez1198-1
5Pine IslandJ. Castellano1221-1
6Wild FitJ. Leparoux1193-1

* Odds by Art Gropper
* Blinkers on: Wild Fit