02/26/2004 1:00AM

Strong field, but who'll get the distance?


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Anywhere you turn, there are questions to be answered regarding the leading contenders in Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 The Very One Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

come into The Very One off victories, but none of the three has raced beyond 1 1/8 miles. Savedbythelight is a proven long-distance runner, but trainer Rick Violette isn't sure she is a true turf horse. Ocean Silk, another proven route horse, may need a race. She has been idle since Oct. 17.

The Very One shares top billing on the 12-race program with the $100,000 Herecomesthebride Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Sixteen fillies and mares were entered for The Very One, a 1 3/8-mile turf race, but only 12 will start, with highweights preferred.

Binya registered a 3 1/4-length allowance

victory going 1 1/8 miles in her U.S. debut, but trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is uncertain how far she'll go.

"She won her last start the right way and appears like she'll run all day, but you never know for sure until they try it," said McLaughlin.

Stay Forever has won seven of 11 starts, including three stakes during her injury-plagued career. She also defeated a strong field of money allowance rivals going a mile on Feb. 6.

"She's certainly bred to get the distance, and I think she will only improve off her last race," said Wolfson.

Madeira Mist, starting highweight under 116 pounds, captured Tampa's 1 1/16-mile Endeavour Stakes earlier this month and is already a Grade 3 winner.

Savedbythelight won the Grade 3, 1 1/4-mile Ladies Handicap and finished third in the Grade 1, 1 1/2-mile Coaching Club Oaks on dirt at 3. But she has only three turf tries in her career, none since Aug. 17, when she finished sixth in Saratoga's Grade 2 Lake Placid Handicap.

"I think she's best from 10 to 12 furlongs, but there aren't a lot of opportunities at those distances on dirt," said Violette. "A big effort Saturday could open up a lot of doors for her the rest of the year."

Ocean Silk finished second, a length behind Eclipse Award-winner Islington in the 1 1/2-mile Yorkshire Oaks at 3, but has not started since finishing second to Spice Island in Keeneland's Dowager Stakes.

"Even if she's not quite 100 percent fit for this one, it should set her up nicely for the Orchid," said trainer Pat Byrne.