06/20/2002 11:00PM

Versatile Ransom's Pride heads split Mount Vernon

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Sunday's Mount Vernon Handicap was so popular with horsemen that the racing office had to split the New York-bred filly and mare turf race into two divisions, each worth $75,000-added.

Ten runners, plus two also eligibles, are in the first division, which will be run as the sixth race. The second division, race 8, also has a field

of 10, plus one also-eligible and one main-track-only horse. The Mount Vernon will be run at 1 1/8 miles on the inner turf.

Ransom's Pride, the 120-pound highweight, is the horse to beat in the second division, which came up the stronger race. Last year, Ransom's Pride, trained by Ramon Hernandez, won two restricted stakes on grass, the Yaddo and Ticonderoga, at the Mount Vernon's distance. A Red Ransom filly., Ransom's Pride also is a winner of four starts on the dirt, including her last race against open company in her 4-year-old debut on May 23.

Hernandez said it is difficult to say what surface Ransom's Pride, who was recognized as the 2001 New York-bred champion turf female and 3-year-old filly, likes best.

"She was very impressive on turf when she won those two races back to back," Hernandez said. "She continues to improve. This year she is calmer than she used to be. She used to very hyper; she's settled down a lot."

Jose Santos, a winner of three runnings of the Mount Vernon, rides Ransom's Pride from post 6.

Ransom's Pride's chief rival is Eventail, a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Take Charge Lady, one the country's leading 3-year-old fillies. Eventail finished second to Ransom's Pride in the Ticonderoga at Belmont last year, beaten a head. In her last start, Eventail finished a good fourth in her 5-year-old debut on May 10.

"With a race under her belt and time to recover, this looks about right," Richard Schosberg, Eventail's trainer, said of the Mount Vernon.

Shopping for Love, the 120-pound highweight, will be the favorite in the weaker first division. After exhibiting poor behavior in the paddock before the Beaugay on May 5, the mare finished last.

Last year, Shopping for Love, a New York-bred champion, ran fourth in the Mount Vernon as the favorite. Her trainer, Ken Nesky, blames the loss on running Shopping for Love back too quickly after she finished a sharp second in the Grade 3 Just a Game, 15 days earlier.

"If she behaves herself in the paddock, she'll be tough to beat," Nesky said.

Nesky has replaced Norberto Arroyo Jr. with Jerry Bailey aboard Shopping for Love, who drew post 9.

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