07/21/2004 11:00PM

Baffert star towers over Fleet Treat


DEL MAR, Calif. - Already proven to be a top 3-year-old filly in California, Western Hemisphere runs against statebreds in Saturday's $100,000 Fleet Treat Stakes. For Western Hemisphere, the race serves a warm-up to the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks next month.

Western Hemisphere will be heavily favored in the Fleet Treat, run over seven furlongs.

"Anytime you can start in a California-bred race, you have to take advantage of the situation," said Bob Baffert, who trains Western Hemisphere for Golden Eagle Farm.

Western Hemisphere has risen to prominence since April. At Hollywood Park, she finished second to stablemate Yearly Report in the Melair Stakes for statebred fillies in April, won an allowance race on turf, finished a game second to Lovely Rafaela in the Grade 2 Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap, and was fourth in the Grade 1 American Oaks after leading to early stretch.

That form makes her a standout in the Fleet Treat Stakes.

"I can't believe Western Hemisphere is running," said trainer Barry Abrams, who starts The Usual. "No one will beat her if she runs."

Although Western Hemisphere made her last start at 1 1/4 miles on turf, she is proven in sprints. She won a seven-furlong maiden race by five lengths at Santa Anita in March.

"It's a good spot for her," Baffert said. "I think we'll take a shot" at the Del Mar Oaks.

Several starters are making their stakes debut. But not Coke's Melody. Trained by Eric Kruljac, Coke's Melody was third in the California Cup Juvenile Fillies last year and won the Sun Devil Stakes at Turf Paradise in January. A closer, Coke's Melody has not started since finishing ninth in the Sunland Oaks at Sunland Park in late March.

Alphabet Kisses has won her last three starts, all at Hollywood Park, including the Magali Farms Stakes for maidens on the California Gold Rush program on April 24 and two allowance races.

"That's hard to do around here," trainer Marty Jones said.

Alphabet Kisses has won as a stalker on the dirt and as a front-runner on turf.

"She'll get tested on Saturday," he said.

The Usual has won 3 of 5 starts, including her only race of 2004, a turf sprint at Hollywood Park on July 4. Abrams considers the Fleet Treat a prep for longer races.

"She'll be better going two turns, but it's one step at a time," Abrams said.