11/01/2001 12:00AM

Strolling Belle better than ever at 5


ELMONT, N.Y. - In the waning months of a fine career during which she has earned almost $600,000 for Red Oak Stable, Strolling Belle, one of the favorites for Saturday's $100,000 Turnback the Alarm Stakes for fillies and mares at nine furlongs, has never been in better form.

Early in September she signaled her well-being with a smart performance to win the Personal Ensign Stakes at Monmouth Park. She confirmed it with another strong performance in the Long Look Stakes at The Meadowlands, though she was eventually disqualified and placed fourth after her rider reached a bit too far with his whip. Strolling Belle, by the Danzig stallion Strolling Along, is 5 now, an age at which many horses of her generation are heading south, physically. Why is she going so well?

"We've been careful never to ask too much of her," trainer John Kimmel noted, "and whenever we thought she needed a break, we shipped her to the Fair Hill training center in Maryland. The quiet country atmosphere there is restorative."

One of Strolling Belle's principal assets is her ability to stay a distance of ground. As a 3-year-old she finished second in the Alabama to the brilliant Silverbulletday. She has also won the last two runnings of the Ladies Handicap at 1 1/4 miles, and she will be bidding for an unprecedented third consecutive victory in December. Saturday's Turnback the Alarm is a prep for the Ladies, one of the oldest features in American racing. It was first run in 1868.

Kimmel has engaged John Velazquez to ride Strolling Belle and is pleased with the way she trained up to her race. He is concerned about a lack of speed in the field, but Strolling Belle has speed and a willingness to use it if required. She's got the right stuff.

Where Strolling Belle has made a name for herself by going "long," Shine Again continues to do nicely by going "short." The 4-year-old daughter of Wild Again, taking advantage of last weekend's preoccupation with Breeders Cup activity, quietly threw in a sharp effort to capture the $150,000 First Flight Handicap at seven furlongs.

Dueling with the heavily favored Dream Supreme through the final furlong, Shine Again, under Jean-Luc Samyn, prevailed by a head. Her $90,000 prize increased her earnings to more than $570,000. She won the Grade 1 Ballerina Handicap at Saratoga and stayed on gamely to finish second to Tugger in the Noble Damsel Mile. She is freshening now at owner-breeder Allaire du Pont's farm on the Eastern Shore, and is scheduled to go to Miami for the winter with trainer Allen Jerkens.