10/02/2003 12:00AM

Without Island Fashion, Cotillion more competitive


If Island Fashion runs in Saturday's Cotillion Handicap at Philadelphia Park, handicappers can look solely for a filly to use underneath her in the exacta.

With Island Fashion out of the equation, however, the Grade 2, $250,000 Cotillion for 3-year-old fillies would become much more difficult to analyze.

Trainer Barclay Tagg and owner Jeffrey Nielson appear to be leaning toward running Island Fashion, easy winner of the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks and Grade 1 Alabama during the summer, against older horses in Saturday's $750,000 Beldame at Belmont Park.

The absence of Island Fashion could cost the 1 1/16-mile Cotillion its brightest star, but it would create a much more competitive race.

Chimichurri and Fircroft, both of whom have finished second in Grade 1 stakes this season, would then rank as the most accomplished runners in a field of nine.

Chimichurri is trained by Todd Pletcher, who last year became the first trainer to sweep Philly Park's two biggest races when he won the Pennsylvania Derby with Harlan's Holiday and the Cotillion with Smok'n Frolic. Chimichurri's two best efforts this season have been a near-miss in the Grade 3 Miss Preakness and a second behind House Party in the Grade 1 Prioress, both going six furlongs.

Overall, Chimichurri is 0 for 7 this year. The Cotillion will be her first attempt around two turns.

Fircroft is also winless this year. Her best performances in five starts came when she was second to Spoken Fur in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks and runner-up to Roar Emotion in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan.

Form-wise, the sharpest filly is City Fire, a member of the potent Michael Gill stable who is trained by Mark Shuman. City Fire has won three of her last four starts, all in stakes, by leading wire to wire, including the Pennsylvania Oaks on Labor Day.

Two intriguing contenders with clouded form are Savedbythelight and Danuta.

Savedbythelight won the nine-furlong Sands Point at Belmont in June and was third in the CCA Oaks at 1 1/2 miles a month later. She has not raced since a dull effort on turf in mid-August, but shows two recent bullet works on dirt at Aqueduct.

Danuta was a two-time winner in Dubai early in the year and ran second when shipped to New York in June. After a layoff of 2 1/2 months, she flashed early speed in the Grade 1 Gazelle, but was pulled up on the turn and merely loped around the remainder of the course.

* The supporting feature on the 10-race program is the $150,000 Gallant Bob, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds. Top contenders include Only the Best, winner of back-to-back turf sprint stakes at Monmouth; Super Fuse, third behind next-out stakes winners Valid Video and Cajun Beat in the Grade 3 Carry Back at Calder in July; and Something Smith, a front-runner who has earned triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in two of his last three starts at Monmouth.