07/18/2002 12:00AM

Adoration heads top trio in Oaks

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STANTON, Del. - Chances are, the Delaware Oaks will get an A. Adoration, Alternate, and Allamerican Bertie are foremost among the 3-year-old fillies who will clash Saturday in the 51st running of the $250,000 Delaware Oaks, a Grade 3 race that helps begin the signature weekend of the Delaware Park meet.

Adoration, a California-based filly who won the Hollywood Oaks in her last start, is a deserving favorite in a field of eight, although a win in the 1 1/16-mile race by Alternate or Allamerican Bertie would hardly be considered a major upset.

"There's a good balance of horses in there," said Steve Flint, trainer of Allamerican Bertie. "The California filly is the one to beat, but I like the way our numbers look, too. If we run our race, we'll be right there."

Graham Motion, trainer of Alternate, called the Oaks "very competitive," adding that Alternate, a three-time winner in five career starts, is highly eligible to improve off a recent runner-up finish in the June 29 Susan's Girl Stakes.

"She was unlucky in that race," said Motion, noting a poor start and crowded inside trip. "But we won the Oaks two years ago with Sincerely, who also lost in the Susan's Girl. Maybe that can happen again."

Adoration, owned by Amerman Racing, is a late-blooming Honor Grades filly who has won three of six starts since making her career debut in February. The June 15 Hollywood Oaks was her second straight stakes victory, following a win over the Hollywood turf in the Senorita.

"She really has developed into a big, strong filly," said trainer David Hofmans. "She's matured a lot in the last couple of months."

Adoration will be ridden by Garrett Gomez, who rode as an apprentice in neighboring Maryland in 1988 before going on to stardom on other circuits, most recently in southern California.

The rest of the Oaks field is Knock Twice, Fly Borboleta, Pass the Virtue, Sixtyone Margaux, and Shop Till You Drop, who is cross-entered int eh CCA Oaks.

The Delaware Oaks dates to 1938, when Handcuff, ridden by 2002 Hall of Fame electee Jack Westrope, was aboard for Brookmeade Stable. The race has been won by standouts such as Light Hearted (1972), White Star Line (1978), It's in the Air (1979), and Runup the Colors (1997).

The Oaks is one of three stakes to be run here Saturday. On Sunday, the centerpiece of the 139-day meet, the $600,000 Delaware Handicap, will be run for the 65th time.

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