10/24/2001 12:00AM

Two debut in split Athenia


ELMONT, N.Y. - The Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf may not have over-filled, but racing secretary Mike Lakow had no problem filling the field for Friday's Athenia Handicap, which - like the Filly and Mare - is for fillies and mares on the grass. In fact, the Athenia attracted so many entrants Lakow eventually split it into two divisions, worth $125,000 apiece, to be run at 1 1/16 miles over Belmont's Widener Turf Course.

Prospectress and Freefourracing, neither of whom has started this season, head the first division of the Athenia, carded as the fifth event on Friday's 10-race program.

Prospectress has been idle since winning Calder's Grade 2 La Prevoyante Handicap in her 2000 finale. A 6-year-old daughter of Mining, she contracted a severe case of colic and colitis after winning that race, and, as a result, was retired and bred to Theatrical this spring.

"She lost the foal after carrying for nearly three months," her trainer, Tom Skiffington said. "So we decided to put her back in training in June. One thing about this mare is that she usually runs well fresh, and she's trained exceptionally well for this race."

Freefourracing made her only U.S. start last fall at Keeneland, and she was an easy winner of the Indian Summer Stakes at six furlongs on the dirt. A daughter of French Deputy, Freefourracing had won three of her four previous starts on grass in England before being sent to trainer Neil Drysdale to prepare for the 2000 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. But she had to be scratched when she was not 100 percent for the race.

Like Prospectress, Freefourracing has trained extremely well over both the Belmont dirt and turf courses in preparation for her 3-year-old debut.

Step With Style, who had not run worse than second in five U.S. appearances - until losing jockey Jerry Bailey leaving the gate in Woodbine's Grade 2 Canadian Handicap - may be the one to beat if Prospectress and Freefourracing come up short in their 2001 debuts.

There is no Lailani, England's Legend, or Starine for Babae to contend with in the second division of the Athenia. A Frank Alexander-trained mare, Babae finished a tiring fifth behind that notable trio in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl. Before that, Babae was second to Starine in the Grade 2 Diana Handicap.

Drysdale has a strong contender in the second division, with the graded-stakes-placed Elegant Ridge coming off an impressive allowance victory over the course earlier this month.

Preseli, a Group 1 winner in Ireland, figures to move forward off her 2001 and U.S. debut, in which she ran second in Pimlico's Waya Stakes.

Nashua: Harty has the 'Spirit'

Though not by design, Sunray Spirit showed a new dimension winning the Grade 3 Cowdin Stakes on Oct. 7. Trainer Eoin Harty hopes his 2-year-old colt remembers his lessons from that day as he stretches out an added furlong in Friday's Grade 3, $100,000 Nashua Stakes.

After winning his maiden in gate-to-wire style at Del Mar on Aug. 19, Sunray Spirit hit the side of the gate in the Cowdin and was last, 8 1/2 lengths off the early pace. He raced wide down the backside and rallied in the stretch to win the Cowdin by 2 3/4 lengths.

Harty knows it may be a reach for Sunray Spirit to successfully stretch out to a mile.

"I think the only chance to get a mile is to ride him the way he rode him the other day," said Harty, who again will give a leg up to Eibar Coa. "He doesn't act like a horse that's going to stretch out. I'd like him to be laying second or third and, hopefully, he shows that turn of foot he showed the other day."

The Nashua is certainly a tougher race than was the Cowdin. Listen Here, a son of Gulch, is 2 for 2 for trainer Bill Mott, including overcoming an awkward start in winning a preliminary allowance race on Oct. 5.

The promise Monthir showed in losing his first two starts was realized in his third out, as the Mark Hennig-trained colt, with blinkers added, romped to a six-length victory in a seven-furlong race on Sept. 23. He has trained exceptionally well since then and may loom the one to beat for a trainer who is hitting at 25 percent for the meet.

Thunder Days, Major Storm, and Brightest Ice complete the field.

- additional reporting by David Grening