05/03/2005 11:00PM

Sis City takes a swing at stardom


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The fine people of Derby City love Sis City, or at least they will until late Friday afternoon. That's when Sis City will start as the overwhelming favorite of the 100,000-plus racing fans who will turn out in ideal weather for the 131st at Churchill Downs.

has won her last two races, both major Oaks preps, by a combined 26 1/2 lengths, a lopsided number that has some racing experts whispering that she is on the verge of developing into the sport's next female superstar. Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., the New York-based trainer who claimed Sis City for a mere $50,000 last summer, is among those hoping the first step on that road to stardom will be taken Friday.

"She's ready," said Dutrow. "This is the race we've been looking at since she started getting real good for us."

Stonerside Stable is the majority owner of Sis City, although the partners - including New York Yankees manager Joe Torre - for whom Dutrow claimed the filly at Saratoga, have retained small interests. Stonerside bought into the filly after a 16-length romp in the Feb. 5 Davona Dale, a race that was followed by a 10 1/2-length score in the April 9 Ashland Stakes.

As the Grade 1, $500,000 Oaks has approached, rival trainers have acknowledged that Sis City is deserving of heavy favoritism - but those same trainers are as eager as anyone to see whether she can run another lights-out race to claim undisputed superiority atop the 3-year-old filly division.

"Sis City has certainly looked like she could be a super filly," said Graham Motion, who will saddle Dance Away Capote, a late-running longshot. "But she still needs to show it in a major race like this."

As in many races, the pace scenario in the 1 1/8-mile Oaks may be paramount to the outcome. There has been a certain school of thought that if Sis City, who tends to show big speed, is forced to go too fast too early, then she could be vulnerable Friday. But Dutrow is confident that jockey Edgar Prado will be able to get Sis City to adapt to whatever is thrown at her.

In any case, Sis City's opponents are hoping that Friday simply will be an off day for her. Steve Asmussen, trainer of , is looking for a big turnaround following a disappointing Ashland effort in which Summerly was beaten 19 lengths. Before that race, Summerly had cruised to three straight wins.

"It's hard for me to believe we slowed her down that much," said Asmussen. "It's pretty obvious to us that she's a lot better than that."

Likewise, the connections of two other fillies who have been thumped this year by Sis City are hoping for the best.

"Beating Sis City is going to be pretty hard to do, but we'll try," said Nick Zito, trainer of In the Gold, second in the Davona Dale and more recently a last-to-first winner of the Stonerside Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland.

"I always say pace makes the race, and if Sis City goes out by herself, we're all in trouble," said Bernie Flint, trainer of , the Ashland runner-up. "I'd love to see somebody hook her. If we can get the right kind of setup, then I think the whole ballgame changes. But that's something we'll have to see after they break from the gate."

The Oaks will be televised live on ESPN in a one-hour broadcast that starts at 5 p.m. Eastern. Post time for the Oaks is 5:45.

The forecast for Friday is perfect: sunny skies and a high temperature of 74. Considering this is the first Derby weekend since Churchill completed its $121 million renovation, the record attendance for Oaks Day - 106,156, set five years ago - could be in peril.

The Oaks is carded as the 10th of 11 Friday races and serves as the final leg for a $500,000-guaranteed pick four. Five other stakes will be run on a blockbuster program.

The field

Kentucky Oaks
Purse: $500,000; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 1

1Runway ModelP. Valenzuela6-1
2Dance Away CapoteJ. Velasquez15-1
3In the GoldR. Bejarano7-2
4Sis CityE. Prado4-5
5SummerlyJ. Bailey6-1
6RugulaG. Kuntzweiler20-1
7Aspen TreeJ. Castellano8-1
8MemoretteK. Desormeaux15-1
9Gallant SecretM. Smith30-1

* All starters carry 121 pounds
* Morning-line odds