07/27/2003 11:00PM

'Babydoll' is one tough filly


SANTA ROSA, Calif. - Brandon's Babydoll, a 4-year-old filly, may not be the fastest runner among the seven fillies and mares entered in Wednesday's six-furlong Sonoma County Fair feature race, but she might be the toughest.

"She had a fractured hind leg as a 3-year-old," said her trainer, Deanna Cook. "It was so bad she had to be cross-tied in her stall to make sure she didn't lie down. If she lay down, she might have compounded the fracture. It was touch and go. We didn't know if she'd make it."

Brandon's Babydoll made it, and Cook knew she had a little talent.

She wasn't surprised when Brandon's Babydoll won her debut at Stockton in a bottom-level $8,000 maiden claimer on June 12. She was surprised when the filly won by eight.

"To win the first time out was so uplifting," Cook said.

But that impressive victory created a problem. Cook and owners Chris and George Hawranik might have considered coming back in another claiming race, maybe for $6,250. The maiden win attracted enough interest that they feared she might be claimed if she ran for a tag.

"For that reason and because it had been such a struggle the year before, we didn't want to lose her," Cook said.

Cook searched and finally found a starter allowance race at Solano for runners who had competed for a claiming price of $40,000 or less. It was a big jump, and Brandon's Babydoll was a distant fourth, trailing two of the rivals she faces again Wednesday, Evitan Native and Silver Box.

"There hadn't been a place to run her, and we wanted to see what kind of horse we have," Cook said.

Brandon's Babydoll stalked the pace for the first half-mile before fading late in the Solano race after running four wide around the turn.

Cook saw enough that she's willing to take another shot at similar company.

"It was 34 days between her first start and her second," Cook said, adding that she didn't put any long works into Brandon's Babydoll during that time. "She's doing well and has a nice work over this track. I'd rather see my filly run a mile, but we definitely need to take another look at her."

Evitan Native, making her third start after a nine-month layoff, is the one to beat. She was favored in the Solano race and made the lead in the lane before finishing second.

Silver Box stumbled badly at the start of the race at Solano and ran third.

But Brandon's Babydoll seems a contender for Cook, who has also won on the fair circuit this year with a Quarter Horse and trains Smoking Joe, the circuit's top mule.