06/25/2003 11:00PM

Sweet Samantha grabs shuttle for start in Kayla's a Gem

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EAST BOSTON, Mass. - Last week the stars all came up to Suffolk Downs from New York to show off in the Moseley. This week there's a local star returning from New York, as last year's top juvenile filly in New England, Sweet Samantha, races in the $35,000 Kayla's a Gem Stakes.

In four races, Sweet Samantha has already shown flashes of brilliance, with wins over three different racetracks. She won her debut at Saratoga last summer by 22 lengths. She came back to win the Concord Stakes at Rockingham by nearly eight lengths. Most recently she made her 3-year-old debut at Belmont and won an allowance race by nearly five lengths. Her only blemish was a fifth-place effort in the Joseph A. Gimma Stakes last September, when her trainer, Herm Kinchen, said she wasn't 100 percent.

"She got hurt a little bit last year and was only about 60 percent for the Gimma," said Kinchen, who trains the filly for Tolland Farms. "She's come back this year older, bigger and stronger. She's always been a racehorse."

There should be several fillies and mares prepared to make a run at the lightly raced returning star in the six-furlong race. Island Melody comes off a strong victory in the My Fair Lady Stakes that, according to the Beyer Speed Figures, was stronger than Sweet Samantha's last effort. Special Jule has won two of her last three races with powerful front-running moves and has posted strong figures as well.

The problem facing Sweet Samantha's rivals is they seemed to have peaked, while Sweet Samantha appears to have to have plenty of potential.

"I'm not too concerned about the pace in there," Kinchen said, adding that he would instruct jockey Dodie Duys "to rate her and keep her a little off the pace. When she's 100 percent she's done things so easily. She's going to make them run."

Special Jule has been one of the stars of 2003 at Suffolk for Yasou Stable Trust, who campaigned the mare for whom the race is named, a winner of multiple stakes and awards in the late 1990's. Like Kayla's a Gem, Special Jule won the Floyd Duncan Stakes. Her strategy will be clear: Get to the front under jockey Jose Bermudez and hope Sweet Samantha doesn't feel like running.

Island Melody, trained by Leona McKanas, will love a speed duel in front of her, considering her distinct lack of early speed. Richard Johnson has ridden her to victories at both short and long distances from off the pace.

Trainer Mike Aro will know what he's up against when he sends Partying into to her first race of the year. Because of licensing complications and because he also trains for Tolland Farm, he has been the trainer of record for Sweet Samantha when she has shipped to New York. Leading jockey Joe Hampshire will be aboard Partying.

Victory twice as nice for McDonnell

Less than a week after shippers took most of the money on Moseley Day, it was refreshing to see New Englander Francis "Skip" McDonnell doubly rewarded with Tuesday's first-race win by Secret Motive.

A 2-year-old filly, Secret Motive won the first baby race of the year and became the first winner for her sire, Cimarron Secret. McDonnell was the winning owner and breeder and also owns the stallion, whom he campaigned to the award as the region's top older horse in 1995.