12/04/2006 12:00AM

Bend a Little cutting back some

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Bend a Little's first career stakes win, in the Hermosa Beach Handicap at Hollywood Park on Nov. 11, made a fan of jockey Jose Valdivia Jr.

Valdivia rode Bend a Little for the first time in that turf race at 1 1/2 miles and was impressed by her performance after hearing a scouting report from trainer Christophe Clement's staff.

"Before the race, they told me that the distance would be no problem," Valdivia said. "She proved it."

Whether Bend a Little can be as effective at 1 1/4 miles on turf will be known after Wednesday's restricted Winter Stakes at Hollywood Park. The race is restricted to fillies and mares who have not won a first-place purse of $60,000 this year.

The Winter Stakes has drawn eight, including the second- through fourth-place finishers from the Hermosa Beach: Aubonne, Trade Only, and Lasika.

"I'd be more confident going a mile and a half, because some of those fillies can't go that far, but I don't think it will matter," Valdivia said.

Bend a Little has won 6 of 17 starts and $193,106. Owned by Cynthia Knight, she has won two of her last three starts, including an optional claimer at Delaware Park going a mile on turf in August. In her last start at 1 1/4 miles on turf, Bend a Little was second in an allowance race at Belmont Park in May 2005.

In the Hermosa Beach, Bend a Little rallied from fifth in a field of six to win by 1 1/4 lengths.

"She showed that she had a turn of foot, and I think that's because of the firm course," Valdivia said. "I think that's different than the courses that she ran on back East. She really quickened away from the field."

Aside from the fillies and mares who ran in the Hermosa Beach, the field includes Quick as Ray, the winner of the 2006 Brazilian Oaks, who is making her U.S. debut, and Sohgol, who was fourth in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting on Sept. 30.

Bend a Little has been the highlight of the meeting for Valdivia.

On Nov. 24, he sprained an ankle in a spill that prevented him from riding on Nov. 25. He has ridden daily since then and says his condition is improving. He said the ankle is not a problem during a race.

"I feel better when I'm on the horse, because I'm on my toes," he said.