02/07/2003 1:00AM

A solid vote for Composure in rematch


PHOENIX - It may not be Affirmed-Alydar or Sunday Silence-Easy Goer. But there's little doubt a line in the sand has been drawn between top 3-year-old fillies Composure and Elloluv. They meet again Sunday in Santa Anita's

Grade 1 Las Virgenes at a mile, with the current score: Elloluv 1, Composure 0.

I expect that after Sunday the score is going to be 1-1. This isn't a knock on Elloluv. In fact, the way Elloluv has emerged on the scene tells you Composure better be in top form if she is going to even the score. Elloluv upended Composure in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet in December at 30-1, and to prove it was no fluke she came back a couple weeks ago and was an easy winner of the Grade 3 Santa Ynez at seven furlongs. These are arguably the two best 3-year-old fillies in the country not named Storm Flag Flying.

Truth is, Composure was ripe for the plucking in the Starlet. But it was hard to see in advance. Her huge, runner-up effort to Storm Flag Flying in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies made her look too good.

Composure came to hand suddenly for trainer Bob Baffert. Her career debut was a disaster in which she blew the start. Then came a second-place finish, and then she went through the roof, blasting maidens in a Del Mar sprint. Wheeled right back in the Grade 2 Oak Leaf at Santa Anita 20 days before the Breeders' Cup, she looked super again, stalking the pace and winning by three lengths. Then came the tour de force in the Breeders' Cup: Composure looked like a winner in midstretch when she passed Storm Flag Flying, only to have Storm Flag Flying come back and beat her. Still, it validated Composure's quality, particularly in routes, and her Beyer pattern of 31, 68, 86, 93, and 101 shows the tremendous progress.

But it had to stop some time, right? A little more than a month after giving everything she had in the Breeders' Cup, Composure was asked to come back in the Starlet. It was expected all she had to do was show up; that an effort not as big as her Juvenile Fillies race would still suffice. But, maiden winner Elloluv didn't get the memo. She went wire to wire, leaving Composure, probably tired by that huge Breeders' Cup run, plugging along behind.

There are reasons to expect a turnaround in the Las Virgenes. First of all, Baffert's horses, particularly his big horses, work fast when they are on top of their game. For example, Congaree and Kafwain recently worked up a storm, and each ran accordingly. Before the Breeders' Cup, Composure worked fast: 1:10.80 for six furlongs six days before the race.

She worked fast, too, before the Starlet, though not quite as briskly. But instead of going into the Starlet off an easy race - like she did in the Breeders' Cup - she was coming off a tough race and a fast work.

Composure has worked splendidly of late. Works of 59.20 seconds, 1:12.60, 1:25.20, 1:23.80, and 58.80 this past Tuesday indicate she's back baring teeth. There's no brutal run from which to recover here, either.

Round 2 to Composure?

Gygistar could be vulnerable

He was one of the brightest stars in the sprint division. Gygistar won all five of his starts last year, including the Grade 1 King's Bishop at Saratoga, in which he earned a career-best Beyer of 113. He was considered a primary contender for the BC Sprint.

But then he hurt his foot in a stall accident just days after being pre-entered for the Sprint. Suddenly, his connections went from thinking about the Breeders' Cup Sprint to wondering when Gygistar could make his 2003 debut.

Well, 2003 has arrived and so has Gygistar. He is set to run Sunday in Gulfstream's Grade 3 Deputy Minister Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs.

All reports are that Gygistar is training superbly for his return. It also doesn't hurt he has won twice over the Gulfstream strip.

Still, considering the severity of the injury and that this is just the first step back for what trainer Mark Hennig hopes will be a long, big year, Gygistar could well be vulnerable, and when the board flashes 3-5 at you it's easy to start looking elsewhere.

Deer Lake, trained by Paul McGee, may be poised for a career-best effort. He will need that kind of race to beat Gygistar. Deer Lake comes here hot, having won two in a row, including an optional claimer at Gulfstream on Jan. 5 over Boston Brat, who in two subsequent starts at Gulfstream set or equaled track records.

Deer Lake is 5 for 9, and in the best form of his life. With Gygistar maybe needing a race, or possibly not being the Gygistar of last year, you have cause to look long and hard at Deer Lake at 6-1.