07/09/2001 11:00PM

Tiger Babe has a double advantage

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Tiger Babe has the pace in her favor in Thursday's seventh race at Belmont, a $48,000 grass allowance run at 1 1/16 miles over the Widener turf.

The New York-bred appears to be the lone speed among the six fillies and mares entered. She stole away to an easy early lead in her last start to win a third-level allowance race at Belmont Park on June 22.

Trained by Leo O'Brien, Tiger Babe was making her second start off a layoff in her last race and carried a feathery 109 pounds. Under apprentice Carlos Castillo, Tiger Babe wired the field in the one-mile race, hanging on by a nose to keep the favorite, Step With Style, at bay at the finish.

Tiger Babe set fractions of 23.59 seconds, 47.24, and 1:11.17 on her way to running the mile in 1:35.62. She returned $15.40.

"You can't hold her back; she's just got too much speed and just wants to go flat out," O'Brien said. "She needed a run in her first race back, but she was ready for the second."

Tiger Babe, who has won at 1 1/16 miles, is dangerous over the Belmont turf, as evidenced by her 3 for 5 record there. She drew the rail Thursday, with Castillo in the saddle, and carries 113 pounds, seven pounds less than her five rivals.

With three of her victories coming in restricted races, Tiger Babe will still be eligible for this condition even if she wins Thursday.

Overall, O'Brien has had a relatively quiet year, winning 12 races from 109 starters, but eight of those wins have come at this meet. O'Brien said he would like to use Thursday's race as a prep for the $75,000 Yaddo, a New York-bred stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 27. O'Brien has won the Yaddo a record seven times.

An intriguing entrant Thursday is Prairie Princess, a Grade 3 winner as a 2-year-old in the 1999 Miesque Stakes, but unraced last year. Prairie Princess returned June 22 and finished fifth, four lengths behind Tiger Babe. The Linda Rice-trained filly might be ready for a big effort with one race under her belt.

The familiar team of Bill Mott and Jerry Bailey are the connections behind Ghost Dance, who finished second at this condition in her American debut May 10.

Ghost Dance, who is devoid of early speed, has had a steady work pattern since her last race.

Chaste, a close third to Tiger Babe, is reunited with the hot-riding Edgar Prado.

Bail Money and Key Oui complete the field.