07/22/2001 11:00PM

Schuylerville: Appetizer at the Spa

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Saratoga's inaugural race meeting in 1864 turned out to be so much fun that crowds returned in greater number the following season, setting a pattern that has held up pretty well for 137 years.

The anticipation of Saratoga and the great racing it has hosted is almost as satisfying as the realization. But given an option, it is recommended you be on hand Wednesday to see a remarkable 2-year-old filly bid for her first stakes victory, in the $100,000 Schuylerville at six furlongs. Dreabon Copeland's homebred Lakeside Cup isn't much to look at, but her heart must be enormous. In her second start, the Kentucky Breeders Cup at Churchill Downs, she competed against the boys and did well to be third, as they set a track record of 1:03 for 5 1/2 furlongs.

More recently the Salt Lake filly finished second in the Debutante Stakes at Churchill Downs, where the victorious Cashier's Dream set another track record, of 1:02.52. Cashier's Dream was nominated to the Schuylerville but will sit this one out, leaving the seasoned Lakeside Cup as the one to beat. She is trained by the veteran Bernie Flint, who admires her hard-trying ways.

She'll probably need everything she has, because the Schuylerville field has a number of promising prospects. Wayne Lukas, who has saddled five winners of the Schuylerville, shoots for a sixth with Satish Sanin's Savannah Bayou, a $350,000 daughter of Deputy Minister who won at first asking last month at Belmont Park. Another who merits respect is Touch Love, 2 for 2 and winner of the Astoria Stakes at Belmont. The Schuylerville could set a high tone for the six glorious weeks ahead.

While the 2-year-old fillies command our attention on opening day, the 3-year-old fillies are waiting in the wings for Saturday's Test Stakes and for the $750,000 Alabama at 1 1/4 miles on Aug. 18. The Alabama, a great Saratoga tradition since 1872, is expected to attract all of the division's leading lights, including Kentucky Oaks winner Flute and Mother Goose winner Fleet Renee. Still another prominent probable is Tweedside, winner of Saturday's $350,000 Coaching Club American Oaks.

There was a bizarre twist to the CCA Oaks when Starrer, the 9-10 favorite, stumbled at the start, tossing jockey Chris McCarron. Starrer rose to prominence in California this summer and her Eastern debut in the CCA Oaks was eagerly awaited.

Tweedside, with John Velazquez up, made the most of the opportunity, stalking the pace set by the stakes-winning Tap Dance, and then taking command near the quarter-pole. She drew away to lead by more than four lengths at the eighth pole and won by an authoritative 7 3/4 lengths, with Exogenous second and Unbridled Lassie third.

What would have happened if Starrer hadn't stumbled? Opinions abound, but racing is a sport of confrontation, and the matter should be set aside until they meet again. To her credit, Tweedside has shown steady improvement for trainer Todd Pletcher. She began her career on the dirt, then was switched to the turf last winter in Florida with good results. When the recent Sands Point Stakes was taken off the grass, Tweedside reveled in the mud and won by six lengths, encouraging her people to consider the CCA Oaks.

Tweedside, by Thunder Gulch, came out of the Keeneland September sale for $100,000 and has earned more than $350,000. She is the third stakes winner produced by her dam, Twitchet, who also dropped Evanescent and Tactical Advantage, and is by Epsom Derby winner Roberto. Tweedside races for Eugene and Laura Melnyk of Toronto, who recently contributed a gift of $1 million to a day-care center operated by the New York Racing Association.