12/16/2005 12:00AM

Balance tops marquee

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Sharp Cat winner Balance has crossed the finish line first in each of her three starts.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - has crossed under the wire first in all three of her starts, has won at 1 1/16 miles, and is adored by her trainer, the veteran David Hofmans.

That outstanding start to her career will make her the favorite in Sunday's $447,000 Hollywood Starlet Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Hollywood Park.

"She's pretty awesome," Hofmans said. "She's a good-sized 2-year-old and, unusually, she is really mature. It doesn't go hand-and-hand. Often times, you have a great big horse with the mind of an infant."

But even with those credentials, Balance has a tough assignment on Sunday.

The Grade 1 Starlet has drawn 11 runners, a larger field than the race has had in recent years.

So many owners and trainers are willing to take a shot that 7 of the 11 fillies were supplemented for $20,000 - Balance, Diplomat Lady, Incumbent, Karlee's Kitten, Loosends, Meetmeinthewoods, and Private World.

"No one is scared of anyone," said trainer Bob Hess Jr., who trains Private World. "Given that it's a Grade 1, it's a great opportunity."

Balance deserves to be favored. Owned by Amerman Racing, Balance won the Sharp Cat Stakes over 1 1/16 miles here on Nov. 27. She was near the lead throughout and won by 1 3/4 lengths without being asked late. The Sharp Cat was Balance's first stakes win. She finished first in the restricted Hidden Light Stakes at Santa Anita on Nov. 2, but was disqualified and placed third for causing interference in deep stretch.

Hofmans said he has detected improvement in Balance in recent weeks.

"She's so cool and takes things as they come," he said. "She's moved forward with each race."

While Balance has already won over the Starlet distance, there are questions regarding how several contenders will handle the distance. Fall in Love won an optional claimer for California-breds over 6 1/2 furlongs on Nov. 27, the same day that Meetmeinthewoods beat maidens by 5 1/2 lengths in a six-furlong race.

Trainer Doug O'Neill said the distance "is a mystery" for Meetmeinthewoods, but feels her bloodlines will help her get that far.

"The only blessing is the General Meeting angle," he said, referring to her sire. "She's built like a router and covers a lot of ground. We've been high on her since the first time we breezed her."

is trying two turns for the first time. Owned by Thoroughbred Capital Partners, Private World is unbeaten in three starts, including two sprint stakes - the Anoakia Stakes over six furlongs at Santa Anita in October and the Moccasin Stakes over seven furlongs on Nov. 20.

Hess said Private World's bloodlines - Thunder Gulch-Rita Ricker, by Dmitri - suggest she can route.

"I think there is enough there to let her run a mile and a sixteenth," Hess said. "If she's within range of doing it, I think she'll have the heart. In terms of her heart and desire, I don't think she'll be outdone."

The field contains three fillies that made their last start outside of California - Incumbent, Loosends, and Sabatini.

Incumbent finished third in a seven-furlong allowance race at Churchill Downs on Nov. 24. Loosends, won a one-mile optional claimer at Laurel on Nov. 23. Sabatini rallied from last in a field of 12 to win a one-mile maiden race by five lengths at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5 in her career debut.

The veteran in the field, with four starts, is Diplomat Lady, who won a six-furlong allowance race on Nov. 12. She won her maiden in June, but was unplaced in two stakes at Del Mar.

"We had to slow down with her. We let her body catch up with her brain," trainer Christopher Paasch said, explaining the early autumn layoff.

Paasch and owner Charlie Cono discussed the positives and negatives of the $20,000 supplement. "A small barn like ours doesn't get too many chances at a Grade 1," Paasch said. "Hopefully, she can step up."