07/01/2004 11:00PM

Sweet Miss El gets tested

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In the three months since 2-year-old racing began in Kentucky, there has been no clear leader in the 2-year-old filly division. On Sunday, one will finally be established with the running of the Grade 3, $100,000 Debutante at Churchill Downs.

The 5 1/2-furlong Debutante is the first stakes race for 2-year-old fillies in Kentucky this year, and only the second non-maiden race. The other race was a June 18 allowance, which was won by Sweet Miss El.

On the basis of that victory, she should be among the favorites in a field of nine, including the third-place finisher from the Three Chimneys Juvenile, Classic Elegance, and fast maiden winners Limitless Lady, Paragon Queen, and Runway Model.

did everything right in pushing her record to 2 for 2 in that June 18 allowance. She rallied behind quick early fractions and drew clear to post a 2 1/2-length victory under leading rider Rafael Bejarano.

Her final time of 1:05.20 for 5 1/2 furlongs was slow, however, as was her 6.74-second closing sixteenth-mile. She earned a 68 Beyer Speed Figure, down from the Beyer Figure of 79 she earned winning her debut in a fast 4 1/2-furlong maiden race May 16.

Trainer Greg Foley downplayed the slower time, calling her a "handy" winner. Working in her favor is her experience at the distance, and her style of rating two to three lengths off the pace, which sets her up with favorable trips. "We'll probably go with the same game plan," Foley said. "Sit off and finish."

Of the five opponents Sweet Miss El defeated in the allowance, only Jules Best, trained by Greg's sister, Vickie Foley, is back to try her again. She finished third behind Sweet Miss El, beaten 3 1/2 lengths.

The horse to catch is , who is trained by five-time Debutante winner D. Wayne Lukas. She won her maiden by 7 1/4 lengths April 16, running the distance in 51.39 seconds. No Beyers are established for 2-year-old races at Keeneland, but her time, even relative to the fast surface over which she raced, ranked as one of the fastest of the meet.

Matched against males in the five-furlong Three Chimneys Juvenile May 1, she was pressured by Lunarpal and weakened to finish a distant third. Pat Day rides.

Most of the other entrants come off maiden victories.