06/01/2004 11:00PM

Plenty of stars to go around in Acorn


ELMONT, N.Y. - It says something about the depth of the 3-year-old filly division that even without its three top stars, Friday's Grade 1, $250,000 came up a terrific race.

Halfbridled and Madcap Escapade are sidelined through the fall with injuries and Kentucky Oaks winner Ashado will await the June 26 Mother Goose. Still, the 10 fillies entered in the one-mile Acorn have solid credentials. Six are graded stakes winners and three have finished second in major events.

Society Selection, trained by Allen Jerkens, is the only Grade 1 winner in the field, having won last year's Frizette over this track in just her second career start. She defeated Victory U. S. A., who is in this field, and Ashado.

Though Society Selection finished 10th in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, she has rounded back into form. That was never clearer than in the Grade 3 Comely Stakes, where she overcame a troubled trip to win by three lengths under a hand ride from Jorge Chavez.

Society Selection was checked back to last entering the far turn. Chavez took her four wide around the turn and she made an explosive run to move into second by the quarter pole, and she blew past Bending Strings in the stretch. Bending Strings came back to win the Nassau County Breeders' Cup by 4 3/4 lengths.

"I had nowhere to go - the horses were dying in front of me,'' said Chavez, who will ride Society Selection Friday from post 2. "I lost ground, but I had so much horse I couldn't hold her anymore. She won pretty easily and very impressively that day.''

Jerkens, who has twice won the Acorn, purposely skipped the Kentucky Oaks to point for this race. Society Selection is 3 for 3 in one-turn races.

The Bob Baffert-trained duo of Victory U. S. A. and Friendly Michelle should both appreciate the one-turn mile. Victory U. S. A. won the seven-furlong Beaumont by 8 1/4 lengths two starts back. Most recently, Victory U. S. A finished fourth in the nine-furlong Kentucky Oaks.

Friendly Michelle is coming off a terrific performance in the Grade 3 La Troienne in which she set a strong pace, was headed by two other fillies, and came back to win by a half- length. She may not have to be used as much early by Alex Solis from post 10.

Island Sand enters the Acorn off runner-up performances in both the Fantasy and Kentucky Oaks. Trainer Larry Jones doesn't believe the one-turn mile is the best fit for his filly, but hopes it will set her up well for the Mother Goose.

Bending Strings and La Reina may offer the best value in the Acorn. After arguing the pace in the Comely, Bending Strings received a perfect stalking trip under Jerry Bailey to win the Nassau County. Pat Day replaces Bailey.

"The one-turn seven-eighths, the one-turn mile, suits her better,'' trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.

La Reina won the Grade 3 Tempted at one mile last fall. She finished second to Madcap Escapade in the Forward Gal, but regressed when fourth in the Ashland. Trainer Shug McGaughey is adding blinkers to La Reina's equipment for the first time.

The Acorn, along with the Grade 3 Flash Stakes for 2-year-old colts, will be shown live on ESPN2 in a one-hour broadcast beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern.

* The Acorn is the first leg of a daily double with Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

The field

Acorn Handicap

Purse: $250,000; 1 mile; Grade 1

1Magical IllusionJ. Santos30-1
2Society SelectionJ. Chavez6-1
3Bending StringsP. Day6-1
4Pawyne PrincessR. Dominguez12-1
5Island SandT. Thompson9-2
6Grey TrafficJ. Castellano10-1
7Bohemian LadyE. Prado5-1
8Victory U. S. A.J. Bailey7-2
9La ReinaJ. Velazquez8-1
10Friendly MichelleA. Solis6-1

* All starters carry 121 pounds, blinkers on: La Reina
* Odds by Dan Illman
* Television: Friday, 5-6 p.m. (Eastern), ESPN2