08/03/2004 12:00AM

Stretchout a question


Saratoga Springs, N.Y. - Formerly run downstate, the New York Stallion Series has been added to the Saratoga stakes schedule, and as might have been expected after a $50,000 purse hike to $250,000, Thursday's Statue of Liberty division for 3-year-old fillies drew 14 horses, although only 12 can run.

Good luck figuring this one out. Five runners are switching back from turf to dirt, and only two have won at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the race - , who is marooned in post 12 pending late scratches.

What's more, the field's leading money winner and only stakes winner, So Sweet a Cat, will be stretching past six furlongs for only the second time, and she has never been beyond seven furlongs.

"I believe she's a much better horse going longer, and we haven't had the opportunity at Finger Lakes to run her longer," said So Sweet a Cat's trainer, Ralph D'Alessandro, who has compiled strong stats with stretch-outs. "She's the type of horse who needs time to get her act together in a race. Her last couple of riders have had trouble getting her to relax early in the race."

It should be good news, then, that

So Sweet a Cat is getting a switch back to leading rider John Velazquez. Their only prior pairing resulted in a Stallion Series victory going six furlongs at Aqueduct last fall.

That remains the only stakes victory for So Sweet a Cat, but she has been second in stakes on four other occasions, and has been worse than second only twice from 10 lifetime starts, three of which have come against males.

The filly to catch and beat may be , a lightly raced daughter of Dixie Brass who breaks from the rail and gets Lasix for the first time. South Wing began her career with a pair of front-running wins at Belmont in May - a debut score at seven furlongs, followed by an entry-level allowance triumph at 1 1/16 miles in the slop for trainer Jimmy Jerkens.

Off those efforts, South Wing was dispatched as the 11-10 choice when tried on turf a month later, but faded to seventh after battling for the lead to midstretch.

"She's bred for the grass, but that didn't carry over into her race," said Jerkens. "I wasn't aware of this race until recently. I was going to wait until we got back to Belmont for an allowance race, but she worked well the other day and we decided to give her a shot here.