06/06/2002 11:00PM

Tabadabado should be flying late

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The last time she raced, Tabadabado barely made it - both into the race and to the

wire first.

An early scratch allowed Tabadabado into an optional claiming race last month after originally being relegated to the also-eligible list, a development that proved highly fortunate for the mare and her connections, including trainer Elliott Walden.

Once allowed in, she lagged well back for most of the 1 1/16-mile turf race before launching a furious bid that resulted in a neck victory.

Sunday, in her first start back, Tabadabado will need no last-second heroics, at least to make it into the starting gate. But it wouldn't be a bad move for her to make a similar stretch run when she takes a step up in company in the ninth and featured race at Churchill Downs.

Tabadabado, a consistent Gilded Time 5-year-old owned by Louis Lee Haggin III, is a major contender among the 10 fillies and mares entered in the $60,500 third-level allowance at a mile on turf. Probably her main challengers are Bold Bluff and Miss Pickums.

Four other allowances also are carded on an excellent 10-race Sunday program. One notable absentee will be leading jockey Pat Day, who was scheduled to ride in New York.

Belterra is back

Belterra made an impressive return to action Thursday when she pulled away to defeat Netherland and five other fillies and mares in the $61,100 feature at seven furlongs.

Belterra, one of North America's top 2-year-old fillies last year, had finished third in her only two attempts at 3. Making her first start since undergoing April 8 throat surgery, she rallied from midpack under Jon Court to finish in 1:22.49 over a good track. She returned $4 as favorite.

"Everything went as well as we hoped," said Ian Wilkes, assistant to trainer Carl Nafzger. The June 29 Mother Goose is the Unbridled filly's probable next start.

Foster day a big one

The annual highlight of the post-Kentucky Derby portion of the spring meet comes up next Saturday, when the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap will be run along with three other stakes.

Street Cry, winner of the $6 million Dubai World Cup, is the likely favorite in what figures to be a field of eight to 10 for the $750,000 Foster. Congaree is a possible starter for trainer Bob Baffert, although Churchill officials believe he may run instead in the Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park, where a Baffert bobblehead doll giveaway will be held.

Meanwhile, three Foster hopefuls breezed Friday at Churchill: Hail the Chief, five furlongs in 59.80 seconds; Connected, five furlongs in 1:01; and Tenpins, six furlongs in 1:14.40.