01/01/2004 12:00AM

Surprise! Pletcher has the filly to beat


Todd Pletcher had a handful of talented 2-year-old fillies in his barn during 2003, a group headed by Ashado, second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and winner of the Grade 2 Demoiselle at Aqueduct.

Pletcher also trained Lokoya and Marylebone, the one-two finishers in the Grade 1 Matron; Sisti's Pride, third in the Grade 3 Tempted; and Capeside Lady, winner of a pair of stakes restricted to New York-breds.

Saturday at Laurel Park, Pletcher will showcase yet another filly from the same crop when 3-year-old Forestier makes her stakes debut in the $60,000 Marshua at six furlongs.

Forestier won her only previous start, getting up by a nose in a six-furlong maiden race at Aqueduct over a sloppy track. Although she flashed high speed, making the lead in 45.16 seconds - tied for the fastest split on that day's program - Forestier crawled home the last two furlongs in 27.63. That slow time is deceptive, however, because she was racing against a 25-mile-per-hour headwind.

Forestier earned a 78 Beyer Speed Figure, the best last-out figure in the nine-horse Marshua field.

Forestier's chief rival is also a filly making her second career start. Among My Souvenirs came from off the pace for a 4 1/2-length maiden win at Laurel on Dec. 11, earning a 73 Beyer. Her trainer, Tony Dutrow, hits at an extraordinary 42 percent rate with second-time starters.

Fast Laner and Saltster, who both raced for a claiming price when they began racing, will get a class test in the Marshua. Fast Laner was claimed for $50,000 out of her second start by trainer Mike Pino. Given a two-month freshening, Fast Laner responded by running third against first-level allowance runners, earning a 74 Beyer that makes look her quite competitive Saturday.

Saltster has moved forward in five straight races, culminating in a winning Beyer of 70 in a $40,000 claiming race on Dec. 17.

2003 Maryland leaders

Dale Capuano earned his sixth Maryland training title in the last seven years with 100 winners at Pimlico and Laurel in 2003, 28 more than Scott Lake, the nation's top trainer in wins. Capuano also edged Mark Shuman for the Laurel fall title, 25-23.

Tony Dutrow finished as the best percentage trainer for the fourth time in the last five years, by winning races at a 29.8 percent clip (50 of 168).

Ramon Dominguez, the nation's leading rider with 453 winners, also led Maryland's riders with 185 wins and in winning percentage (25.6 percent). Abel Castellano Jr. was the leading rider at Laurel's fall meet with 64 wins.

Michael Gill dominated the owner standings for the second straight year by winning 145 races, including 51 at Laurel's fall meet. He also tied Sondra Bender for most stakes victories in the state with seven.