05/29/2002 11:00PM

Sweetest Thing at home going long


ELMONT, N.Y. - She's been there and done that.

The principal challenge for the fillies and mares who will line up here Saturday in the $150,000 Sheepshead Bay Handicap at a mile and three furlongs on the turf course is staying the trip.

Stamina seems to be in short supply today, but going long has never been a problem for Sweetest Thing. She has run in five stakes at a mile and a half, won twice, and was a close second the other three times.

Her last appearance, in Keeneland's Bewitch Stakes five weeks ago, was typical of Sweetest Thing in good form. She settled nicely off the pace under Mark Guidry, then accelerated through the stretch to win by a convincing 3 1/2 lengths. They went the first half-mile that day in 50.40 seconds, not particularly to her advantage, but she wanted it more than the others.

Sweetest Thing, a 4-year-old filly by Candy Stripes, who makes her headquarters at Woodbine in Toronto, is owned by Mickey Canino of Manhasset, N.Y., William Werner of Chicago, and trainer Roger Attfield, one of Canada's most successful horsemen. Attfield purchased the filly at the Toronto yearling sales for about $23,500, and Canino and Werner, who are his partners in a number of other horses, each bought a one-third interest. Sweetest Thing has earned almost $700,000 to date.

"She didn't train well as a 2-year-old and wound up fracturing a tibia," Attfield recalls. "We never got to start her that season, which was probably a blessing in disguise. She was a closer and wasn't going to get anything. She had a chance to develop, and that was the best thing that could have happened."

Sweetest Thing won four of eight starts last season at 3, displaying admirable consistency. Her only moderate performance came in the Queen Elizabeth at Keeneland, and Attfield says it was a mistake on his part to have considered her for that feature, run on a "tight" course. She was accustomed to Woodbine with its sweeping turn,

A filly who raced in Europe last season and is also experienced in staying a distance could spell trouble for Sweetest Thing in the Sheepshead Bay. Mot Juste, a close second in the Irish Oaks, gave a good account of herself last fall in two outstanding events for fillies and mares, the Group 1 Prix Vermeille and the Group 1 Prix de l'Opera. She hasn't started since the Breeders' Cup but has trained well at Belmont in recent weeks and merits respect.