04/02/2003 1:00AM

Yell tops talent-filled Ashland

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland's spring race meeting - its appeal to horsemen enhanced by an average daily purse distribution of over $600,000 - gets under way Friday and swings into high gear Saturday with an unusually compelling edition of the $500,000 Ashland for 3-year-old fillies.

The Ashland is invariably competitive but the edition unfolding this weekend may be one of the best in the series since Sonny Whitney's lovely Sun and Snow edged the brilliant sprinters My Juliet and Red Cross in 1975. That was an Ashland to savor, but in retrospect it is only an appetizer to the banquet on Saturday, which is expected to include the undefeated Lady Tak, on hand from a rampage in New Orleans; the superb Californian Elloluv, who has compared favorably with the best; the rapidly improving Yell, whose smashing victory in the Davona Dale at Gulfstream attracted national attention; and Ivanavinalot, winner of last month's Bonnie Miss Stakes. Who is the favorite in that crowd?

Elloluv, trained by Craig Dollase, beat Composure in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet last fall and was second in two important features to the now-retired star this winter at Santa Anita. Lady Tak, who is 5 for 5, won three stakes at Fair Grounds, including the Fair Grounds Oaks, in which she beat the popular California filly Atlantic Ocean. Lady Tak is trained by Steve Asmussen. Ivanavinalot, as good as her name, has earned more than $600,000 under the care of Kathleen O'Connell.

But the principal danger in the Ashland appears to be Yell, an A.P. Indy filly owned and bred by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider. She has run only four times and will be conceding experience to her celebrated rivals. Yet she has earned the confidence of the knowledgeable Shug McGaughey, who has saddled three winners of the Ashland: Inside Information, My Flag, and Glitter Woman.

"I thought she ran big in the Davona Dale," McGaughey said. "She showed considerable improvement off her first race of the winter, and that was a pretty good race, too. She won the Davona Dale by eight lengths, beating Ivanavinalot, who came right back to win the Bonnie Miss. We feel Yell is capable of more improvement and she has trained up to the Ashland as good as you could ask."

Yell arrived last season at McGaughey's barn with a million-dollar pedigree.

Her sire, A.P. Indy, was a Horse of the Year and is one of the most influential young stallions, with some exceptional horses to his credit. His dam, Wild Applause, was a stakes winner and is the dam of four stakes winners. The second dam, Glowing Tribute, was a stakes winner and is the dam of six stakes winners, including Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero.

With bloodlines saying distance, McGaughey was in no hurry to rush Yell to the races and she made her debut on Nov. 11. Every subsequent appearance has produced a significant step forward and that remains the expectation of her people as the Ashland nears.

The Ashland has attracted a number of the leaders of the 3-year-old filly division.

One of the brightest prospects for that honor, also trained by McGaughey, has yet to make her 3-year-old debut. She is Storm Flag Flying, undefeated in four starts and champion 2-year-old filly of 2002. She gained impressive credentials with a thrilling tally over Composure in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall.

"Her four races - three of them Grade 1's - came within a period of a little more than two months," McGaughey said. "We wanted to give her some time off to grow and develop. But she has been training forwardly and is very close to her 3-year-old debut.

She is scheduled to run in the one-mile Comely Stakes at Aqueduct on April 18, and that should put her in position to bid for the NYRA's new series for 3-year-old fillies, which starts with the Mother Goose.