12/16/2004 1:00AM

'Sister' has stepped up on grass


NEW ORLEANS - Sister Swank may be the one in a closely-matched field of 3-year-old fillies in the $60,000 Pago Hop Stakes at a mile on the grass, the feature race Saturday at Fair Grounds. The 19th running of the Pago Hop has attracted several stakes-placed contestants, with Sister Swank and Galloping Gal both weighted at 123 pounds, including a two-pound penalty for having won $50,000 on the turf in 2004.

, a Skip Away filly trained by Steve Asmussen, was a useful novice last season at Fair Grounds, where she won an allowance and then finished second in the Thelma in her first start as a 3-year-old. She then finished fourth in the Tiffany Lass and third in the Grade 2 Silverbulletday.

It wasn't until August that Sister Swank made her grass debut, winning an allowance race at Arlington Park. She has been a grass horse ever since.

"She kind of stepped up her game since we put her on the grass," said Asmussen. "We thought this was a good spot for her a long way out. She's been keeping good company."

Sister Swank finished third to subsequent repeat winner Ticker Tape in the Grade 3 Pucker Up at Arlington Park on Sept. 18, then won the Grade 3 Valley View at Keeneland on Oct. 23 and finished fourth, beaten only a half-length, in the Grade 2 Mrs Revere at Churchill Downs on Nov. 13.

Asmussen said he thinks the Pago Hop suits Sister Swank, but he is not sure about the Fair Grounds turf course.

"You never know how one's going to run on the Fair Grounds turf course until they do it," he said. "There were some I thought would like it and didn't, and others I thought wouldn't and did."

Co-highweight was second to Sister Swank in the Valley View and could be tough in this spot if Code of Ethics, Victoire Bataille, and Outright Buck don't force a suicidal pace. Shadow Cast could also be tough. Trained by Neil Howard, Shadow Cast was third in the Valley View and won the Silverbulletday over Sister Swank.