12/14/2006 1:00AM

Balance can salvage what's left of '06


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - There is plenty of debate over the nation's champion 3-year-old filly, but at the beginning of the year, the pro-tem leader was clear-cut. Balance was unquestionably on top, with victories in the Las Virgenes Stakes and Santa Anita Oaks. But she was upset in the Ashland Stakes, then chipped her left front ankle in the Kentucky Oaks. She has not raced since.

Much of the year has been lost, but Balance could still end the year the way she started, with a Grade 1 victory. She is scheduled to return on Dec. 30 in the La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita, and she continued her preparation on Thursday at Hollywood Park with a six-furlong work in 1:15.40.

"It was nice and easy," said her trainer, David Hofmans, who said Balance would have two more works before the La Brea. "She's coming back great. She's already gone seven-eighths. She's grown up and matured a lot."

Other candidates for the La Brea are Foxysox, the winner of the Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park earlier this month; Phantom Rose, a sharp winner of an allowance race on Dec. 1; Vague, the winner of the United Arab Emirates 1000 Guineas who was 10th in the Bayakoa; and Squallacious, who finished second in the Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks in June.

If Balance were to win the La Brea, it would be her third Grade 1 victory of the calendar year, equaling that of Bushfire, and giving her one more than Pine Island and Wait a While. But the La Brea falls into an Eclipse Award black hole. It is run after the Dec. 27 voting deadline, and will not count in the 2007 calendar year.

Whilly spotted in confidence-builder

Last year, Whilly won two graded stakes and so would not have been eligible to a restricted race such as Saturday's $55,000 Val Royal Stakes.

Whilly enters the Val Royal on a seven-race losing streak, and will try to restore his status as an important turf horse in the 1 1/16-mile turf race.

Owned by Triple B Farms, Whilly is coming off an 11th-place finish in the Grade 1 Citation Handicap here on Nov. 24. He never reached his customary position near the front and faded through the final quarter-mile.

"The whole idea is to get him in a race where we can get his confidence back," trainer Doug O'Neill said. "Hopefully, we won't see the Arlington Million-type horses that he's been facing."

In fairness, the losing streak includes several important races. Aside from the Citation, Whilly was 11th in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free Stakes at Nad al Sheba in March. Last year, he won 2 of 7 starts: the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes at Santa Anita and the Grade 2 American Handicap here. He was later 10th in the 2005 Arlington Million.

Whilly will not be facing the toughest group in the Val Royal. The only other graded stakes winner from the last two years is Truly a Judge, the winner of the Grade 2 San Gabriel Handicap in January 2005.

Whilly races near the front, and must hold off a late run from El Don, who has won two stakes on turf this year, and Terroplane, who was second in a one-mile allowance race on turf on Nov. 29 in his first start in more than seven months.

Boboman may switch to main track

Boboman, the winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup in his stakes debut on Dec. 9, will be pointed for the $150,000 San Marcos Stakes over 1 1/4 miles on turf at Santa Anita on Jan. 21.

But trainer Richard Mandella is also entertaining starting Boboman in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on dirt on March 3.

Boboman has never run on the dirt in his 10-race career, which began in France.

"He works great on the dirt, all dirt," Mandella said, referring to conventional surfaces and Hollywood Park's synthetic surface. "I've thought about it for some time."

Owned by Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, Boboman will be a 6-year-old in 2007. He made his first start in California in March 2004 but has been plagued by injuries through his career.

"He had little problems," Mandella said. "He chipped an ankle and we took out both splint bones."

Mandella has won the Santa Anita Handicap three times, most recently in 2005 with Rock Hard Ten. He has won the San Marcos Stakes three times, most recently earlier this year with The Tin Man.

Santa Anita replays to be on free TV

Santa Anita will present a nightly replay program on over-the-air television during its upcoming winter-spring meeting, which begins on Dec. 26.

The 30-minute program will appear nightly at 7:30 p.m. on KJLA, channel 57, in the Los Angeles area. The program will also appear on the HorseRacing TV network at 8:30op.m. Pacific and at 8:30 a.m. the following day. HRTV is available on satellite systems and some cable systems.

Santa Anita is the only Los Angeles track to present an over-the-air replay program. The Hollywood Park program airs only on the TVG horse racing network.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen