04/18/2002 12:00AM

Raging Fever runs like a champion


JAMAICA, N.Y. - Trainer Mark Hennig still believes Eclipse Award voters were mistaken when they overlooked Raging Fever in favor of Caressing for the 2-year-old filly championship in 2000.

Sure, Raging Fever was defeated in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, but Hennig believes her five straight wins - including two Grade 1's - that preceded the Cup were enough to earn the honors. Eclipse voters may have held it against Raging Fever that all of her wins that year were around one turn.

Sidelined by injury most of her 3-year-old season, Raging Fever has returned in championship form this year, winning three of four stakes and losing another by a neck. Raging Fever aims for another stakes victory Saturday when she heads a seven-horse field entered in the $150,000, Bed o' Roses Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct. Only six will be in the gate as the Hennig-trained Pleasant County will run only if something happens to Raging Fever.

A daughter of Storm Cat, Raging Fever is coming off a dominating 3 3/4-length victory in the Grade 2 Distaff Breeders' Cup Handicap. Overall, Raging Fever is 8 for 12, with seven stakes victories.

"She's a filly that's gone on to prove she might have been slighted in divisional honors that year,'' Hennig said. "It wasn't like her 2-year-old year was a fluke.''

Speed is Raging Fever's best asset. With age has come the maturity that Hennig believes could carry Raging Fever a distance of ground. The Bed o 'Roses is run at one mile, the farthest Raging Fever has run since the Breeders' Cup. As a 2-year-old, Raging Fever won the Matron at one mile and the Frizette at 1 1/16 miles.

"She's really mellowed a lot over time, she's a lot more sensible and easier to train,'' Hennig said. "She used to be difficult to walk in the barn. Horses mature with age and they can get a little more ground.''

Raging Fever, who will carry top weight of 121 pounds under John Velazquez, looms the main speed in the Bed o' Roses. The only potential pace threat could come from Shiny Band, who stumbled and broke outward when she ran in the Distaff.

Atelier and Critical Eye figure to pose a late challenge to Raging Fever. Atelier is 3 for 5 at Belmont, but is coming off a poor performance in allowance company at Gulfstream, a race in which she bled. Critical Eye, a Grade 1 winning New York-bred, was beaten a nose in this race last year but has not been out since finishing eighth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Belle Artiste, who makes her stakes debut after winning four straight races, and Senora Claudia, a Group 1 winner in Chile, complete the field.

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