06/09/2005 11:00PM

Andujar could be California's next star

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PHOENIX - The rider merely gave the horse a tap on the shoulder, a little more rein, and the horse was long gone, powering home to win under wraps, letting all know this is a horse with which to be reckoned.

You might think I'm referring to Ghostzapper, and well I could be. This time, however, the object of my affection is Andujar, a dazzling winner of last Saturday's Grade 2 Milady Handicap at Hollywood Park. By dismantling the best of the West, and by doing so in a season where the older fillies and mares have taken turns beating each other around the country, Andujar sent a warning shot over the bow of the division: Look out.

Andujar showed the speed to make the lead, showed the heart to take some heat, and showed the engine to power away. While most winning Beyer Speed Figures for the big filly-and-mare races have left something to be desired, you couldn't say that about Andujar, who racked up a 106 for her 1:41.59 clocking over 1 1/16 miles. The way she won, in hand, gave every indication the needle could have registered higher.

Optimism over her future is bolstered by the fact that Andujar, who had shown ample promise this spring since coming from Europe, was recently purchased privately for a reported $750,000 by J. Paul Reddam and Mark Schlessinger. She now resides in the barn of Doug O'Neill - he's the guy you see with the big smile on his face.

"I knew she was good, but I didn't realize she was that good," said rider Corey Nakatani after the race. "And she has gears despite being that big."

Nakatani noted that at the start, Gary Stevens's filly, Alphabet Kisses, "broke out and hit her hard right in the rear quarters. After that, I just had her cruising, cruising, cruising. They came to me, and I just let her out a notch, let her catch a breather, then turning for home I let her out again. And, wow. She is something else. She could be any kind."

O'Neill has mentioned next month's Grade 1 Vanity as a logical next step. Surely with Ashado looking like, well, "Ashado" of her former self and with Sweet Catomine gone, there seems to be a spot at the top of the mountain. I will be very interested in how Society Selection fares in next week's Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont - particularly since this year's Breeders' Cup is at Belmont - but anything less than a powerful performance by her can lead you to believe it's Andujar they may all have to worry about come championship time.

'Irish' eyes smiling in the Oaks?

With Sweet Catomine and several other top California 3-year-old fillies either hurt (Sharp Lisa) or opting for another spot (Splendid Blended), Sunday's Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks is ripe for the plucking. Memorette figures the horse to beat, having finished second to Sweet Catomine in the Santa Anita Oaks and then third chasing the best back East in the Grade 1 Ashland before rallying for fifth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. But she's not really the type to get the pulse racing, and with her style she likely has to give them all a head start and then go get them all. Memorette also figures to be favored. Uh, no thanks.

That leaves me looking for a price and to Cee's Irish.

Sure, Cee's Irish was most recently beaten four lengths by Leave Me Alone in the Melair, and she must deal with Leave Me Alone again here. That race was at this same distance, 1 1/16 miles, and at Hollywood.

But there's a reason there could be a different result this time around. Cee's Irish had a super run going prior to the April 24 Melair, winning the Corte Madera at Golden Gate in December and the Blue Norther on turf at Santa Anita on Jan. 14 before shipping to Fair Grounds, where she dueled and faltered to fifth against eventual Kentucky Oaks winner Summerly. Off that disappointment, Cee's Irish returned to Southern California, just missed in the China Doll on the turf at Santa Anita on March 12 to Thatswhatimean, who was second in the Grade 2 Honeymoon here last week, and then shipped to Sunland to easily win the Sunland Oaks on April 2, also at 1 1/16 miles. Her Melair result may have had to do with timing. After the Sunland Oaks, Cee's Irish came back in three weeks for the Melair, loomed a big threat into the lane but flattened out. She ran like a horse who was a bit tired.

Now, however, trainer O'Neill has given her plenty of time to get back to her best. This time she has seven weeks between starts. We know Cee's Irish likes that kind of time, too - her Corte Madera win in the winter came off a similar vacation.

We also know she likes this track. She won her maiden here impressively last November, also at 1 1/16 miles. Her only other local start was the Melair, in which she still ran quite well.

With Memorette and Leave Me Alone in the race, the odds on Cee's Irish should be quite palatable, perhaps as high as 6-1.