03/15/2004 1:00AM

Bear Fan to land at home

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Bear Fan has spent the winter in Florida, but the California-bred filly returned to her home state and then went to Maryland in search of stakes success in recent months. She will be on the move again, as her main goal this spring is a race in Kentucky, the Grade 1 Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs.

The best way to prep her for that May 1 race, according to her trainer and co-owner, Wesley Ward, is to bring her back to California for a restricted stakes, and to avoid the big guns lurking in the East. That is why Bear Fan was scheduled to fly from Florida on Tuesday for Wednesday's $100,000 Irish O'Brien Stakes, the St. Patrick's Day feature at Santa Anita.

"I need to run her. She's just been training unbelievable," Ward said Monday from Florida. "She's doing so good right now."

has been racing strongly, too. She comes off a victory in the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel, and prior to that she was an unlucky third in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita. Ward's other options to prep Bear Fan for the Humana Distaff were the Vinery Madison at Keeneland on April 7 and the Distaff Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct on March 27, but both of those seven-furlong races are shaping up as decidedly tougher than the Irish O'Brien, which is restricted to California-breds.

"Lady Tak and Harmony Lodge are probably going to run in the Madison, and Randaroo and Storm Flag Flying in the Distaff," Ward said. "The competition in this race is a lot easier, and it gives us 45 days until the race at Churchill."

The Irish O'Brien, at about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course, marks the first time Bear Fan will have competed on turf. That will be the key question facing handicappers, since Bear Fan will be meeting proven grass performers such as Icantgoforthat and Super High.

"I worked her on the grass one time at Hollywood Park, and she worked great," Ward said. "So even though she hasn't raced on the grass, I think she'll love it."

Icantgoforthat led from start to finish in the Monrovia Handicap on this course the first week of the meet. She faded in a pair of dirt sprints since then, including the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint, in which she was sixth, though only a neck behind Bear Fan.

Super High captured the Pro or Con Handicap going one mile on grass last time out. She is effective on both turf and dirt, but seems better on grass, on which she has won 4 of 8 starts.