11/12/2004 1:00AM

Baffert filly heads 'Cradle'


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Western Hemisphere's unmistakable preference for the main track is one reason she will be favored to win the $85,000-added Cat's Cradle Handicap on Sunday at Hollywood Park.

Secondly, the 7 1/2-furlong Cat's Cradle plays to Western Hemisphere's strength. "The distance is a good distance for her," trainer Bob Baffert said, adding "the farther she goes, the better she is going to be."

But the biggest reason Western Hemisphere is favored in the Cat's Cradle is because the California-bred filly-mare stakes does not include the division's brightest stars - graded-stakes winners Dream of Summer and Yearly Report. It leaves a modest field of six.

The field includes Royally Chosen, whose $492,638 purse earnings tops the field; Tucked Away, a late-running sprinter who has earned $333,288 but has won only 1 of her last 12 starts; Our Mango, who sprang a 49-1 upset in the Cal Cup Distaff; potential bomber Cyber Slew; and outsider Lucky Spirit.

has won 3 races and $274,465 from 9 starts, but her lone stakes win was against 3-year-old Cal-breds at Del Mar. Baffert was both surprised and displeased when Western Hemisphere was assigned 120-pound top weight for the Cat's Cradle.

"The weights are ridiculous," he said. "She's just a 3-year-old."

But she may be the best filly in the race. Owned and bred by Betty Mabee's Golden Eagle Farm, Western Hemisphere is a full sister to General Challenge. Runner-up by a nose last out in the Cal Cup Distaff at 6 1/2 furlongs on turf, she returns to dirt Sunday, the surface over which she has won 2 of 4 starts. Rene Douglas rides Western Hemisphere, whose typical Beyer Speed Figures in the mid-90's would probably be good enough.

, 5 for 20, shortens in distance after a disappointing fourth in the Cal Cup Matron. Royally Chosen is the only starter in the Cat's Cradle who has earned a triple-digit Beyer, but may have lost a step at age 6.

Cyber Slew's trainer, Doug O'Neill, expects an improved effort from her over her flat 10th in the Cal Cup Distaff. He said Cyber Slew was turned out briefly following the Del Mar meet and was not at her best when she ran in the Cal Cup.

"She's doing a lot better now," he said.

Also on the Sunday card are two allowance routes for 2-year-olds. Oak Leaf Stakes runner-up Splendid Blended runs in race 2. Romping maiden winner Giacomo faces Cal Cup Juvenile winner Texcess and stakes-placed Chips Are Down in race 4.