05/15/2002 11:00PM

Victory Ride primed for peak effort

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Rusty Arnold doesn't underestimate the task at hand, but is approaching Saturday's $200,000 Shuvee, where he will run Victory Ride, with a sense of confidence.

The Grade 2 Shuvee, a mile dirt race at Belmont, drew five fillies and mares.

Raging Fever, a winner of three stakes this year and undefeated at Belmont in four starts, is the 121-pound highweight.

Also entered is Two Item Limit, who was third in last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff here at Belmont. Two Item Limit probably needs more than the mile to be at her best.

Victory Ride, who carries 118 pounds, holds the upper hand on Raging Fever in the freshness department, having had only one race this year. Raging Fever makes her fifth start of 2002 after some gritty performances.

Victory Ride, second in her lone start at a mile in last year's Grade 1 Acorn, is 4 for 5 lifetime.

After winning the Grade 1 Test for owner G. Watts Humphrey Jr. in July, Victory Ride was sidelined with a leg injury, which required surgery. She returned this year at Keeneland and won the seven-furlong Madison Stakes by one length over Celtic Melody on April 10. Celtic Melody, in her next start, was awarded the win in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff on Kentucky Derby Day when the winner, Gold Mover, was disqualified for interference.

Arnold said the Keeneland race moved Victory Ride forward.

"She's a better horse now than I ran at Keeneland," remarked Arnold, who said Victory Ride is the best horse he has trained in 26 years on the job. "I'm taking her over there 100 percent, and if she gets beat, it's because she got outrun."

Edgar Prado, Victory Ride's regular rider, has the mount on Harlan's Holiday in the Preakness. Jean-Luc Samyn will be aboard Victory Ride, who drew post 5.

Arnold, who won the 1996 Shuvee with Clear Mandate, said Victory Ride has the necessary early foot to keep the speedy Raging Fever in her range.

Raging Fever, who is $43,635 short of becoming a millionaire, is the likely pacesetter under John Velazquez. Trained by Mark Hennig, who has a bevy of talented fillies in his barn, Raging Fever is 2 for 2 over wet tracks, which could come in handy with rain in the forecast for early Saturday.

Velazquez said Raging Fever, a 4-year-old, has learned to harness her speed and keep something in reserve for the finish.

"She's much more relaxed than when she was younger," Velazquez said. "[Now] she can control the speed and still finish."

Raging Fever drew post 3.

Atelier, a gusty second to Raging Fever in the Grade 3 Bed o' Roses in the slop April 20, also was entered in Friday's Pimlico Distaff. Atelier's trainer, Shug McGaughey, said he was leaning toward running in New York because he wouldn't have to ship and the Shuvee field is small.

Shiny Band, third in the Bed o' Roses, ran two big races in the slop last year at Belmont, where she has won four races overall. Shiny Band would need to step up to win this, but the switch to her preferred surface should help.

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