07/02/2002 12:00AM

Rider hopes he has right 'Style'

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SALEM, N.H. - Thursday's $75,000 Rockingham Breeders' Cup Handicap has plenty of style.

Trainer Christophe Clement is sending Step With Style back to Rockingham Park to defend her title in this race. She will be making her first appearance in New England since being voted the region's 2001 horse of the year.

Trainer Bill Mott, who is gunning for his third straight stakes win this meet, will send in Stylish for the race.

Joe Hampshire, this track's leading rider, faced a difficult decision when both Mott and Clement called looking for his services in the 1 1/16-mile turf race.

"It's a great position to be in," said Hampshire, who chose Step With Style, a horse he rode twice last year. "Before guys like Mott and Nick Zito were sending horses to New England on a regular basis, Chris [Clement] was a big part of my success in gaining credibility with New York trainers."

Hampshire is looking for his third straight victory in this race. He rode Dominique's Joy for Mott in 2000 - making this year's call even more difficult.

"Both guys are sending quality fillies," Hampshire said. "You can never be 100 percent right, but I like my choice."

Step With Style is coming off a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Gallorette Handicap at Pimlico on May 17. She has finished second or third in all four of her starts this year, but hasn't won since this race last season. Clement has won two other Rock Breeders' Cups, with Vashon in 1997 and Cox Orange in 1994.

Stylish won the Grade 3 Citgo Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs on May 4. She was third in the Grade 3 Just a Game Breeders' Cup Handicap at Belmont in her last race and has finished in the money in 12 of 14 lifetime races.

Mott has dominated the stakes at this meet, winning the Grade 3 New Hampshire Sweepstakes with Del Mar Show two weeks ago and the Rockingham Oaks with High Maintenance last Saturday. In addition to his 2000 win in this race, he won the inaugural running in 1988 with Kings River II. Julian Pimentel will make the trip from Monmouth Park to ride Stylish.

De Aar finished 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Step With Style in the Gallorette, run over yielding turf, then just missed in a minor stakes at Delaware Park in her last start. Rodeo Springs is perhaps the best horse in the race based in New England, but faces a tough test as she goes for her sixth straight win.

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