04/06/2006 12:00AM

Balance short price in eight-filly Ashland

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Balance rumbles home in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks last month.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Balance seems an inappropriate name for such a one-sided filly. Pretty much everything that Balance does, she does full-bore, whether it's training, racing, or keeping her veteran trainer on his toes.

"She's one of the toughest, strongest horses I've ever trained," said David Hofmans, who in a 33-year career has trained such standouts as Touch Gold, Alphabet Soup, and Adoration. "She's very self-willed."

Owned by the Amerman Racing Stables of John and Jerry Amerman, Balance will be a heavy favorite Saturday when she faces seven other 3-year-old fillies in the 69th running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. If she wins as expected, Balance would add to her already impressive list of credentials and would surely head to the May 5 Kentucky Oaks as a solid favorite.

"After she won the Santa Anita Oaks, we left it totally up to her to tell us whether we should go straight to the Kentucky Oaks or run her one more time," said Hofmans. "She came out so strong and so happy that this was the logical move."

, by Thunder Gulch, has finished first in 5 of 6 career races, although she was disqualified after an apparent victory in her second start last November at Santa Anita. Despite her headstrong ways and an occasional penchant for flaunting her early speed, Balance nonetheless has shown a willingness to conserve her boundless energy in the opening stages of her races before making powerful stretch runs.

"So far she's made it all work in her favor," said Hofmans.

On the advice of bloodstock agent Bob Feld, the Amermans bought Balance for $260,000 at the 2004 Keeneland yearling sales. "She was extremely well made and always had a certain presence about her," said Feld.

Balance, with Victor Espinoza in from California to ride, will break from post 6 in the Ashland, which goes as the ninth of 10 races on Saturday's card. Like all 1 1/16-mile races on the Keeneland main track, the Ashland will start and finish at what is otherwise the sixteenth pole.

If Balance is somehow upset Saturday, the logical candidates to beat her include another California filly, Itty Bitty Pretty (post 8), who was third behind Balance in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes eight weeks ago; Performing Diva (post 4), a sharp winner of a mile allowance last month at Gulfstream Park; and Wait a While (post 3), a 14-length winner of the Grade 2 Davona Dale at Gulfstream two starts back.

Also in the Ashland are (post 5), runner-up in the Martha Washington at Oaklawn Park; and Coolwind (post 2), a Chicago invader making her first start in more than five months.

The Ashland, which dates to Keeneland's opening year of 1936, has a proud history of producing top contenders for the Oaks. Among the great fillies to win both races were Real Delight (1952), Optimistic Gal (1976), Princess Rooney (1983), and Silverbulletday (1999).

The 2005 Ashland was won by Sis City, by 10 1/2 lengths under Edgar Prado. Sis City wound up fourth as the 3-5 favorite in the Oaks.

With rain forecast for Friday and possibly Saturday, the main track could be off for the Ashland. The last non-fast track for the race was in 2000.

Besides the Ashland, the outstanding Saturday card also includes six allowances (races 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10). First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern, with the Ashland set for 5:15.

The field

Ashland
Purse: $500,000; 1 1/16 miles; Grade 1

PPHORSEJOCKEYODDS
1BushfireC. Velasquez15-1
2CoolwindE. Razo Jr.20-1
3Wait a WhileJ. Velazquez5-1
4Performing DivaR. Douglas8-1
5Sweet SugareeS. Bridgmohan20-1
6BalanceV. Espinoza3-5
7Saratoga DriveJ. Castellano15-1
8Itty Bitty PrettyM. Guidry8-1

* All starters carry 121 pounds
* Odds by DRF
* Blinkers on: Saratoga Drive