10/07/2004 11:00PM

Spice Island: Best figs but winless


Determining the likely pacesetter in Sunday's Grade 2 WinStar Galaxy Stakes at Keeneland is seemingly as difficult as ascertaining the winner. None of the nine entrants in the Galaxy, a $500,000 turf contest at 1 3/16 miles, have won a North American turf race wire to wire. Most have been successful closing from the middle or rear of the pack.

Only , who is making her U.S. debut after racing in France and Spain, shows a hint of front-running form in her past performances, and European races are traditionally run much slower early than those in North America.

Irrespective of who makes the lead, the Galaxy figures to be run slow early and fast late - suggesting the winner will be the mare that can avoid traffic and outquicken her opponents in a furious closing stretch run.

Several notable entrants have favorable experience rallying behind slow fractions. Grade 2 winner rallied to win the 1 1/2-mile Dowager Stakes at Keeneland last year after the leader walked the opening six furlongs in 1:18.22; Stay Forever took the Grade 3 Mint Julep at Churchill Downs in May with a last-to-first rally behind soft fractions; and Dimitrova rallied to win the 1 1/4-mile, Grade 1 Flower Bowl in 2003 behind a six-furlong split in 1:14.99.

The mare to beat on speed figures is Spice Island. Third in the Grade 3 Glens Falls Handicap at Saratoga Sept. 4, she enters the Galaxy with Beyer Speed Figures of 99 or higher in three of her last five starts. None of her opponents has run a 99 or higher in any of their five most-recent starts - though many have come close.

A rewarding $40,000 claim by Denlea Park Ltd. in August 2002, Spice Island has since made over $450,000. But she is winless in seven starts since taking the

Grade 2 Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct last November. Trainer Christophe Clement gives the mount to Edgar Prado.

, like Spice Island, has run well in 2004 without winning. Although off the board in all four starts this year, she has been competitive in high-class company. She finished fourth, beaten three lengths, in the Grade 1 Gamely Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park in May, and fourth, beaten 2 1/4 lengths, in the John Mabee Handicap at Del Mar in July. She enters the Galaxy off another close fourth behind males in the Del Mar Handicap on Aug. 29.

Rene Douglas rides for trainer Neil Drysdale.

Super Brand, Lady Liberty, Shaconage, Bedanken, and Alchemist complete the field.