05/17/2005 11:00PM

Ashado a favorite worth trying to beat

Ashado, working out at Churchill Downs on May 5, enters Friday's Pimlico Breeders' Cup Distaff off a fifth-place finish in last month's Apple Blossom, her only start this year.

BALTIMORE - Ashado will be heavily favored in the Grade 3, $150,000 Pimlico Breeders' Cup Distaff on Friday, but there are questions surrounding her that might embolden players to take a shot at beating her.

On her best day, such as in last fall's Breeders' Cup Distaff, Ashado is clearly superior to her rivals in Friday's race. But she disappointed in her only start this year, then was pulled two weeks ago from a scheduled race at Churchill Downs in part because of a poor work that week.

Since returning to New York, however, has trained sharply, according to trainer Todd Pletcher. "The two weeks at Belmont, she's trained absolutely as good as she's ever trained," Pletcher said.

That made Pletcher decide to run Ashado this weekend, and he chose the Pimlico Distaff after also pondering the Shuvee Handicap on Saturday at Belmont Park.

Last year's champion 3-year-old filly, Ashado was fifth as the 1-2 favorite in the Apple Blossom Handicap last month in her only start since the Breeders' Cup. At Churchill Downs, where she won last year's Kentucky Oaks, Ashado was outworked by Kentucky Derby runner Flower Alley in their final drill before their scheduled races. Pletcher said he was not happy with the weight assignment Ashado had received for the Louisville BC at Churchill, and the work was the final push he needed to bypass that race.

"Her first work at Churchill, she worked head and head with Limehouse, but her second work was not as good," Pletcher said. "She was fighting the track a little bit. With the weight and a little hesitation over the way she worked, I thought it was better to pass."

But even though Ashado is working well again, is it worth taking an odds-on price on a filly whose current form is questionable?

Poised for a possible upset is Pleasant Home, who is seeking her third straight victory and is coming off a powerful win in the Bed o' Roses Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct. She came here because her trainer, Shug McGaughey, is running Daydreaming in the Shuvee.

"I feel good no matter who's in it," McGaughey said. "Her first race in Florida, she was hung out wide the whole way. Then she got into trouble and won from far back, which is not easy to do. We took a shot in the Bed o' Roses, and she circled the field and won easier than it looks."

Saintliness suffered her first loss in six starts when finishing second in the Next Move Breeders' Cup Handicap in March. As of Wednesday, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin had not decided if Saintliness would run here or in the Shuvee.

Friel's for Real, who won this race last year, has lost her last four starts. She was a close fourth in the Next Move, finishing one length behind Saintliness.