05/24/2001 11:00PM

Shandra Smiles tries mile in Kent

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AUBURN, Wash. - Shandra Smiles took command of the 3-year-old filly division at Emerald Downs with an authoritative front-running win in the 6 1/2 furlong Federal Way Handicap on May 6. The game changes on Sunday, however, when the $45,000 Kent Handicap will be contested at a mile.

The Kent is the first of four straight two-turn stakes here for 3-year-old filly set, so any runner with designs on the divisional championship will have to prove she can handle at least a middle distance. Trainer Steve Bullock feels Shandra Smiles, a daughter of Wood Memorial winner Cahill Road, will be up to the challenge.

"She certainly gives me the impression that she will go on," said Bullock. "She is bred to route, and she is a big, long-legged individual. She looks like a route horse all the way. I'll be surprised if she isn't better routing than she was sprinting.

"She's got to prove it, though. I think the key will be whether she relaxes on the lead. She hasn't relaxed in her last couple of sprints because she has been dueling with Sophisticated Slew, but Sophisticated Slew wasn't nominated for this race. If they leave her alone on the lead, it should be easier for her to settle and carry her speed."

The draw for posts might determine whether Shandra Smiles can set her own pace. Silver Echo appears to be the only filly in Sunday's short field who is capable of running with the favorite early, but trainer Bud Klokstad said his filly's strategy will depend on whether she draws inside or outside of Shandra Smiles.

"If she draws outside, I'd just as soon see her sit off that filly and stalk," he said. "That's what I'd prefer. But if she's inside it forces your hand. You just about have to go on with it or risk being shuffled back."

Silver Echo is coming off a very game performance in a six furlong allowance on May 17, when she dueled for the lead throughout after breaking from the rail post and nearly lasted, being nipped at the wire by the stretch-running Anita Maria.

"She ran a big race that day, and it should have her fit to go a mile," said Klokstad. "She hasn't really shown me that she wants to route, but I won a route stakes in California with her mother and I think she deserves a chance. She looks like she should route. I've always thought she was the best-looking filly on the track."

Anita Maria, a $200,000 yearling purchase, is also an eyeful, and her recent win over Silver Echo suggests that she may yet prove a bargain.

"I think she is coming around now," said trainer Bob McMeans. "She has been awfully green, but she is finally starting to settle down. I thought she got too far back last time, but she finished very strong and that was encouraging. She is by Silver Deputy so she should get a mile even though she is out of a Knights Choice mare, but we'll see. All of these fillies have something to prove on Sunday."

Sabertooth to go in a stakes

Monday's $45,000 Pepsi-Cola Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs will be the stakes debut of Sabertooth, who poses the main threat to Jumron Won's dominance of the 3-year-old colt and gelding division. Sabertooth, a gelded son of Petersburg and Exit's Baby, has started only twice, but he has made the most of his opportunities.

Debuting against maiden special weight company on April 21, the muscular bay raced wide throughout but drew off to score by almost two lengths in a rapid 1:03.20. Coming back in an allowance test on May 13, he cut fractions of 21.80 and 44.40 before pulling away in hand to score by three lengths in 1:09.80.

"There is no question he has a lot of natural ability," said trainer Jim Penney. "He beat a real nice horse, Sullivanitis, when he broke his maiden, then he came back to win pretty handily the other day.

"This race on Sunday will be something else, though. Jumron Won has to be regarded as the best 3-year-old on the grounds, and he is a good gauge for the rest of us. I just hope our horse can run his race. If he can beat Jumron Won or run close to him, we can start to get excited."