02/14/2004 1:00AM

Steady Course rates and romps at a mile

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NEW ORLEANS - Dallas Stewart was starting to get frustrated. First, his 3-year-old filly Steady Course caught an upper-respiratory virus the day before she was to have run in the Jan. 3 Thelma Stakes, forcing a scratch. Steady Course bounced back and was good to go a couple of weeks later.

But good to go where? The entry-level sprint allowance in which Stewart kept entering Steady Course continually failed to fill. With no other option, Stewart entered Steady Course in a one-mile allowance, Friday's featured ninth race, and afterward, it looked like Stewart and Overbrook Farm might have a horse for the Fair Grounds Oaks.

Steady Course ran in five sprints at age 2, and showed speed in all of them, but on Friday jockey Shane Sellers was able to take her back off the pace without the slightest protest. Steady Course settled in comfortably down the backstretch and around the far turn, and when an outside pace horse started to fade, Sellers gave the filly her head. In a few strides, Steady Course had a clear lead, and she went on to an 8 1/4-length win, running a mile in 1:37.84, an excellent time for this track.

"I don't think we really knew she was ready to do that," Stewart said. "Shane said she rated really well for him."

Steady Course, a striking chestnut by Old Trieste and out of a Storm Cat mare, appeared to have come out of her breakthrough win in good shape. Stewart said that she isn't an especially robust filly, but the 22-day break between her allowance win and the Fair Grounds Oaks could give Steady Course plenty of time to recover, especially since she eased across the wire Friday.

Rain may strike again

Finally, the race that Stewart had waited for with Steady Course attracted enough entries, and it serves as Monday's ninth-race feature. For 3-year-old fillies at about 5 1/2 furlongs on turf, the entry-level allowance drew a field of 10.

As has been the case for the last several weeks at Fair Grounds, this race has a strong chance of being rained onto dirt. With the turf course already wet, heavy rain fell Saturday, and races almost certainly are off the grass Monday.

As it happens, Stewart has a horse for this spot as well. Her name is East Bay, and though she hasn't raced since May, East Bay has a decent chance Monday. East Bay debuted at Keeneland going 4 1/2 furlongs on a muddy track and won by five lengths. She returned three weeks later to face males in the Three Chimneys Juvenile at Churchill, finished third behind Hutcheson winner Limehouse, and has not run again since. Jose Martinez Jr. has the mount, and East Bay has the rail.

But the most likely winner might by Everheart, trained by - who else - Steve Asmussen. Through early Saturday, Asmussen had won 46 races at this meet, and Everheart fits this spot very well. She won her debut last October and finished second in her first allowance try to Ready and Tough, who has turned out to be a pretty nice filly for trainer Paul McGee. Everheart drew the far outside post, but she has the speed to get position by the turn.