07/13/2006 12:00AM

Stretching obstacle to a repeat


SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Stretching won three races in a row between December and April, and a second-place finish May 29 in a decent Grade 3 stakes makes her the horse to beat on Saturday in the Lady Canterbury Breeders' Cup Stakes.

But win streak pales compared with the string of victories put together last year by Rue des Reves, who has returned to Canterbury to defend her title in the $100,000 Lady Canterbury, a one-mile grass race.

When Rue des Reves won the 2005 Lady Canterbury by a nose, it was her seventh consecutive victory, an amazing stretch for a horse who once lost a $10,000 maiden claimer and was claimed by her current owner for only $6,500 while racing at Mountaineer Park in 2004.

"Craig Amundson claimed this little filly, and he gave me a call two years ago, said he had a little old turf filly and wanted to send her on down," said the Louisiana-based trainer Dwight Viator. "I told him to go ahead."

lost her first start for Viator, then became unstoppable. She won starter allowance races, ran through her allowance conditions, and took the Lady Canterbury by a nose.

"She is the most honest and hard-trying and gutsy little filly you'll find," said Viator.

In her second start of 2006, in June at Louisiana Downs, the 7-year-old Rue des Reves won for the first time since the Lady Canterbury, taking a high-end allowance race in a performance as good or better than some of her victories last season.

"She got a little break at the farm this winter," said Viator. "We brought her back, she put a little weight on, and she really looks good."

Viator said that Rue des Reves is to be sold at auction this fall.

Rue des Reves will need a peak performance to beat Stretching, who at 50-1 finished a troubled third of 10 last out in the WinStar Distaff at Lone Star Park. Bred and owned by the Wertheimer brothers of France, Stretching was imported to the United States late last summer, and after a maiden loss at Hawthorne won three in a row - including the Jersey Lily Stakes - at Sam Houston. Trainer Mike Stidham has given Stretching a break of at least six weeks between all her races, and Stretching has improved with every start.

"She's kind of a smallish filly that took a long time to acclimate when she came over from France," Stidham said. "We started giving her time between races, and she started running good, so we just kept spacing her races out."

, the possible pacesetter in the nine-horse field, and the Kentucky shipper Aimer also appear to be contenders for the top slot.