09/18/2003 12:00AM

Where's Wonder Again of old?


ELMONT, N.Y. - If things had gone according to plan, trainer Jimmy Toner would have been preparing Wonder Again for next Saturday's Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational rather than this Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 Noble Damsel Stakes at Belmont Park.

But for whatever reason, Wonder Again has yet to duplicate her sterling form of a year ago when she won consecutive graded stakes, including the Grade 1 Garden City Breeders' Cup Handicap. Though Wonder Again is 0 for 4 this year, Toner believes there is still time to salvage Wonder Again's 4-year-old season.

"We can't make any more excuses for her, she has to step up this weekend," Toner said. "This year has been a very hard year. We came into it with big expectations. Basically, nothing has panned out."

While the competition may be easier in the Noble Damsel than in the Flower Bowl, Wonder Again will have to overcome the outside post in the 11-horse field under Edgar Prado.

In the spring, Wonder Again was done in by a couple of troubled trips, finishing second in the Grade 3 Beaugay at Aqueduct and third in the Grade 3 Just a Game. Toner thought Wonder Again was ready for the Grade 1 Diana, but she finished fifth, beaten three lengths.

"The two races she had early on, she obviously didn't get enough out of to put her there with those kind of horses," Toner said.

Toner thought Wonder Again would bounce back in the Ballston Spa Breeders' Cup, but she finished a dull eighth out of nine. Toner said Wonder Again has trained well since returning to Belmont and added that he wouldn't be bothered if the remnants of Hurricane Isabel softened up the turf course.

Trainer Bill Mott has entered both Stylish and Delta Princess, but he would prefer not to run either on soft ground. Stylish has won three straight starts, including the Ballston Spa and is the 118-pound highweight under Heberto Castillo Jr.

Dedication, a Group 1 winner in France, is 0 for 2 in the U.S. and has not run since finishing fourth in the Grade 3 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill on Kentucky Derby Day. Trainer Christophe Clement said he turned the filly out because he was disappointed with her race that day, but he has been pleased with how she's trained since she returned to him.

"I think she's fit enough and I think she's a true miler," Clement said.

The Todd Pletcher uncoupled entry of Dancal and Something Ventured have both proven they can handle an off turf course.