11/25/2004 1:00AM

Runway Model an iron filly

In the Gold has trained well since recovering from a minor illness.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In an era when horsemen tend to tread very lightly with their young horses, rare is the top-class filly with 10 races at 2.

Yet here comes Runway Model, ready for her 10th start and apparently begging for more. As the solid favorite in the Golden Rod Stakes, the Grade 2 race that helps close out the Churchill fall meet Saturday, Runway Model is something of a throwback to the Thoroughbred who just can't do enough.

"I relate her back to the 2-year-olds of the olden days that were able to compete and run," said trainer Bernie Flint. "I wanted to stop on her after the Breeders' Cup but she wouldn't let me."

, owned by Naveed Chowhan, has finished worse than third in only two of her nine starts. The highlights of her season include runner-up finishes in the Bassinet and Arlington-Washington Lassie, a victory in the Grade 2 Alcibiades at Keeneland, and, most recently, a very respectable third-place finish behind likely divisional champion Sweet Catomine in the Oct. 30 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Lone Star Park.

Flint initially intended to let Runway Model down in the weeks following the Breeders' Cup before gearing her up for a 3-year-old campaign designed to get her to the Kentucky Oaks. But she returned from Texas more energetic than ever, and with the Golden Rod's $200,000 purse just sitting there for the picking, Flint felt like he had to take a shot.

The decision seems logical enough, since Runway Model could be the strongest favorite in any of the "Big Four" stakes on closing weekend. With Eddie Martin Jr. set to ride, Runway Model will start from post 1 when she and five other fillies break from the gate in the 1 1/16-mile Golden Rod.

Probably the strongest challenger to Runway Model will start right alongside her: (post 2), who also was entered in the Breeders' Cup but had to be scratched two days beforehand when she came down with a minor illness. In the Gold was in the thick of the three-horse photo won by Runway Model in the Alcibiades, and in the aftermath of the Breeders' Cup disappointment, trainer Nick Zito said he is pleased with how the filly has resumed training.

Kota (post 5), a consistent Indian Charlie filly trained by Bob Holthus, also merits consideration. Kota has never been worse than third in six starts, with a third-place finish in the Nov. 6 Pocahontas marking her most recent outing.

The rest of the field is Mille Lacs (post 3), whose trainer, Carl Nafzger, has won two of the last three Golden Rods with Belterra (2001) and My Boston Gal (2002); Quiet Optimism (post 4), a two-time winner from eight starts; and Summerly (post 6), a 14-length maiden winner at Keeneland seven weeks ago.

The Golden Rod, named for the official flower of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, dates to 1910 and has been won by a number of outstanding fillies, most notably in 1998 by Silverbulletday, who won the Kentucky Oaks the following spring.

The Golden Rod is carded as the ninth of 12 races.