05/03/2007 11:00PM

Ballado's Thunder live at a price

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PHOENIX - As the old saying goes, sometimes you just have to see it to believe it.

On paper, any handicapper can see Ballado's Thunder did some good things on her way to victory in the restricted Santa Lucia Handicap at Santa Anita on April 14. But any handicapper who saw the race knows she is a filly who has turned the corner. She will get a chance to prove that, at a price no less, in Sunday's Grade 3 Hawthorne Handicap at Hollywood Park. And she's going to need to improve to handle a small but very tough group in the 1 1/16-mile race.

Ballado's Thunder seemed destined for a useful career on the turf for trainer Rafael Becerra. A daughter of Saint Ballado, she won her maiden on the dirt at Del Mar last summer, but since then has plied her trade on the turf with some success - she won two allowance races last fall and was second to Price Tag in a third-level allowance race at Santa Anita on March 16. Price Tag is perhaps the best middle-distance turf filly or mare in the country.

Moved to the Santa Anita dirt for the Santa Lucia, Ballado's Thunder was sent of at 7-1. She made her skeptics pay, and paid off those who believed.

She has always had tactical speed that could be rationed. She set a slow pace, a half-mile in 49 seconds, in that March 16 turf race. But she was able to pressure a much faster pace in the Santa Lucia, pushing the four furlongs in 45.89 seconds and setting the six-furlong fraction of 1:10.09. She blasted clear after a mile in 1:35.64 before hitting the wire in the Santa Lucia in a brisk 1:42.41 to win by 3 1/4 lengths.

Beyond just the numbers, however, was the visual impression. Ballado's Thunder never appeared a loser. She pressured pacesetter Musical Echo into submission, and when rider Richard Migliore asked, she bounded away. It appeared she could have won by five or six if the race had been another half-furlong.

The Hawthorne is a much tougher task, although the best of the division out West - Balance and Sugar Shake - are not here.

Ballado's Thunder will be trying Cushion Track for the first time, but based on the brief history of the track - one that has seen many a turf horse relish it - she can carry her talent to even bigger and better things over this surface.

Cantabria, trained by Bobby Frankel, is surely the horse to beat. She finished fifth as the favorite in the Grade 2 El Encino at Santa Anita Jan. 14 when she seemingly did not handle the dirt. Frankel freshened her up, moved her to turf, and she rallied smartly to win a turf sprint there April 4.

Now she is back on the Hollywood Cushion Track, where she won her U.S. debut on Dec. 6, biding her time early and powering home to win easily by 4 1/4 lengths. There's no doubt Cantabria has quality and she loves this place. It's also noteworthy that Migliore, who rode both Cantabria and Ballado's Thunder in their most recent outing, ends up sticking with Cantabria.

Frankel believes Cantabria is ready for her first graded stakes victory Sunday.

"She's doing good here," said Frankel. "She's the type who would train good anywhere."

Cantabria's form, her love of Cushion Track, and Migliore staying with her will help your price if you believe in Ballado's Thunder, who should be an attractive overlay.

And when you get a horse who seems to be coming into her own, how can that be a bad thing?