08/17/2006 12:00AM

Time is now for Pine Island

After racing wide much of the way, Pine Island (left) rallies to run second to Wonder Lady Anne L in the Coaching Club American Oaks.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Pine Island received a baptism by fire running in Grade 1 stakes in her third and fourth starts. She acquitted herself well by finishing second, beaten less than a length, both times.

With those two efforts under her belt, and a switch to a Saratoga surface that is playing to her late-running style, Pine Island looks well positioned to win her first Grade 1 in Saturday's $600,000 at Saratoga. The Alabama, restricted to 3-year-old fillies, is run at 1 1/4 miles.

Pine Island will meet eight more accomplished rivals in the Alabama, including Grade 1 winners Adieu, Lemons Forever, and Wonder Lady Anne L. But she figures to go off the favorite coming off solid efforts in the Mother Goose, when she was second to Bushfire, and the Coaching Club American Oaks, when a wide trip compromised her chances against Wonder Lady Anne L.

Shug McGaughey, who has trained three Alabama winners, believes those experiences and the fact this race will be run around two turns will benefit Pine Island, a daughter of Arch.

"She trains like racing's really helped her," McGaughey said. "She's thrived on it. I think it's time now.

I threw her to the wolves two times - she responded pretty well. She made a couple of mistakes. I'm hoping she kind of puts it all together, and I'm also hoping that going around the two turns we're able to let her settle into stride maybe a little more than we were at Belmont. But you got to be careful they don't get away from you.''

In the Mother Goose, Pine Island stumbled at the start. Though she was able to save ground thereafter, she wasn't able to catch Bushfire, a three-time Grade 1 winner who is skipping this race for the Gazelle next month at Belmont. In the Coaching Club, Pine Island was four wide early on down the backstretch before being pushed even farther wide by Miss Shop. She rallied widest of all in the stretch, but couldn't catch Wonder Lady Anne L.

McGaughey is hoping for a swifter, more contested pace in the Alabama and could get it with Ex Caelis, Teammate, and perhaps Adieu vying for the early lead.

Horsemen have described Saratoga's main track this meet as demanding. It also seems to favor closers in route races. Pine Island, Miss Shop, and Lemons Forever certainly fit that style.

Miss Shop has won minor stakes on turf and dirt. She is coming off a third-place finish in the Coaching Club. Jockey Richard Migliore learned that Miss Shop's turn of foot isn't as explosive on dirt as it is on turf, but said he thinks he can use that to his advantage this time now that he knows the filly better. Migliore also said he believes this track favors Miss Shop's style.

"As tiring as this track's playing I think it's definitely got to play to this filly's strength and probably Shug's filly's strength," Migliore said. "Whereas the others may be laboring when these two still got life underneath them."

Allen Jerkens trains both Miss Shop and Teammate. Jerkens, like McGaughey, has won the Alabama three times.

Lemons Forever rallied from last to win the Kentucky Oaks on May 5. She was a nonthreatening fourth in both the Mother Goose and Coaching Club. Trainer and part-owner Dallas Stewart said he believes Lemons Forever has thrived at Saratoga.

"I've never seen her look any better," Stewart said. "We know she's a true two-turn horse. We hope to see a real good performance on Saturday."

Adieu, trained by Todd Pletcher, won the Spinaway here last year and then took the Grade 1 Frizette at Belmont. She had been a bit of a disappointment this year before breaking through with a victory in the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks on July 15.

Pletcher will also send out Unbridled Belle. Pyramid Love, who has never raced on dirt, completes the field.

The field

Purse: $600,000; 1 1/4 miles; Grade 1

1Pine IslandJ. Castellano2-1
2Wonder Lady Anne LE. Prado7-2
3Lemons ForeverM. Guidry6-1
4Ex CaelisR. Bejarano30-1
5AdieuJ. Velazquez5-2
6TeammateC. Velasquez20-1
7Miss ShopR. Migliore8-1
8Pyramid LoveJ. Leparoux12-1
9Unbridled BelleG. Gomez 20-1

* All starters carry 121 pounds
* Blinkers on: Pyramid Love
* Odds by Art Gropper