02/12/2007 1:00AM

Balance's saga turns upbeat


ARCADIA, Calif. - She could have been a write-off, ancient history, just another young and talented filly who fell by the wayside after a couple of splashy displays. In a few years she would have sent a foal to the races, and her name would have bubbled to the surface again, tinged with the regrets of what kind of racehorse Balance might have been.

The good news is, she still might be that racehorse.

If the look of last Sunday's La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita is legit, Balance appears ready to pick up where she left off last spring, when she was considered one of the finest 3-year-old fillies in the land. Back-to-back victories in the Las Virgenes Stakes and Santa Anita Oaks sent her off to Kentucky with a flourish. A daughter of Thunder Gulch, Balance appeared to have it all.

Then it all went wrong. Balance finished a distant third in the Ashland at Keeneland, then put forth a dismal showing in the Kentucky Oaks. She was favored in both prestigious events, too, which left the rest of the country wondering what all the fuss was about.

"I had all kinds of dreams for her," said John Amerman, who races Balance with his wife, Jerry. "And you always have excuses in this business. But the fact was, she didn't win. Still, it wasn't her. There must have been something wrong, and sure enough there was a chip in her ankle."

After surgery, Balance took up residence at the Amermans' Peacefield Farm, near the California town of Temecula, where she recuperated under the care of their daughter, Anne. As a $260,000 yearling who had won two Grade 1 races and more than $500,000, Balance was a valuable commodity whether or not she raced another step.

"Obviously, we're in this as a business, and we recognize that the way you make money is to sell," Amerman noted. "On the other hand, we get so attached to our better horses, it would have been hard to even think that way until we gave her a second chance. Eight months was a lot of time, especially in a very short career. But we always thought she could come back."

Balance returned for trainer Dave Hofmans in the seven-furlong La Brea Stakes on Dec. 30, running a professional, promising third. When she arrived in the paddock for the nine-furlong La Canada, Amerman knew it was all systems go. She proceeded to win by 4 1/4 lengths, beating the scrappy Bai and Bai.

"I think she really benefited from that first race back," Amerman said. "She appeared more confident on Sunday, and she looked great. There was at least one other trainer there who I noticed couldn't take her eyes off her."

Balance is a bright, ear-twitching bay who takes after her powerfully built sire. She seems to know her place is at the head of the herd.

"I don't know if intelligent is quite the right word to describe her, though," Amerman said. "It's more like she dominates her world. Everybody kind of bows to her and has to do what she wants to do when she wants to do it."

The next world Balance will try to conquer is the $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational at Santa Anita on March 10, a race won by the Amermans and Hofmans in 2004 with Adoration. Such events are not unusual in the racing life of owners who have also seen their dark blue colors carried by major stakes winners Lido Palace, Spoken Fur, Happyanunoit, Mash One, and Siphonic.

Still, the return of Balance has been an especially welcome tonic for the Amermans, who went through their own Barbaro-like experience over the past six months with a filly named Simply Because, a daughter of Seattle Slew.

Simply Because was maturing into a fast and classy animal last summer with back-to-back victories on the Hollywood Park grass. Then, during a routine morning exercise, Simply Because suffered a career-ending ankle injury early in the Del Mar meet.

"[Drs.] Joe Cannon and Barry Grant did a fabulous job at their San Luis Rey clinic," Amerman said. "They put all the screws in there to hold the ankle in place. But about two months later there were problems, and we were faced with a decision to put her down, or amputate. We decided to give her a chance.

"She was getting along just fine," Amerman went on. "The prosthesis was fitting beautifully. It was going to be so successful, we were even talking about her possible matings. But then we got a call not long ago that they had to operate on her immediately. It was peritonitis. All the medication that she had to take through her surgeries had just torn through her stomach. Jerry and I decided that the poor filly had been through enough."

Simply Because was euthanized on Jan. 29, the same day Barbaro was put out of his misery.

"She really had talent, but you never know," Amerman added. "One bad step and it's over. That's why, when you have a horse like Balance, you've got to enjoy the moment."