10/18/2006 11:00PM

Best of the West have to step up


ARCADIA, Calif. - Few things would bring more gratification to a Southern California racing fan than an eight-race West Coast sweep in the Breeders' Cup.

As if that were even a remote possibility.

According to an Oak Tree statement released in September before the meet began, "Oak Tree . . . is primed to continue its reign of unparalleled excellence in the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships." Talk about lofty expectations.

The release stated that Oak Tree has produced 31 Breeders' Cup winners, more than any track. It left out the part about Oak Tree going winless in seven of the 22 Breeders' Cups.

That is okay. Oak Tree is still No. 1, for now. But many prep-race winners have a lot to prove. Due to a main-track speed bias and dubious competition, there is reason to question the legitimacy of many 2006 Oak Tree stakes. California could be exposed right away on Nov. 4.

We'll start with the Juvenile Fillies, led by Oak Leaf Stakes winner Cash Included. She might be the real deal, but her pace-pressing victory Sept. 30 was achieved on a Santa Anita track that was blatantly speed-biased.

Cash Included deserves credit for running fast (93 Beyer). However, she might not be as good as she looked. And because she will be favored in the Juvenile Fillies based on a victory under optimal conditions, Cash Included could be a bet-against on principle.

Oak Leaf runner-up Point Ashley is increasingly doubtful to start. Oak Leaf third-place finisher Quick Little Miss ran well - against the bias - by rallying from far back. Quick Little Miss is one of those 30-1 bombers useful to key in the vertical exotics.

The West Coast shippers in the Juvenile include Norfolk Stakes one-two finishers Stormello and Principle Secret. Just like the Oak Leaf one week earlier, the Oct. 8 Norfolk was run on a Santa Anita track that favored speed. Stormello and Principle Secret ran fast (96 Beyer), albeit under advantageous conditions.

The bias complicates analysis, and the inclination is to dismiss Stormello and Principle Secret. The Norfolk was further clouded by an injury to favorite Horse Greeley, and a tough trip by third choice Malt Magic. Ultimately, Juvenile betting strategy will depend on price. Stormello and Principle Secret probably are not good enough, but if they start at double-digit odds, that sentiment could change in a hurry.

The Filly and Mare Turf includes impressive Yellow Ribbon winner Wait a While. She is proven everywhere, and though her odds-on win was over dubious competition, there is no reason she cannot win again. As for Yellow Ribbon runner-up Dancing Edie, she appears outclassed after losing by 4 1/2 lengths.

However, Dancing Edie is a bulldog that refuses to surrender. In her last start, she "won" the race for second by a neck. She won a Grade 1 at Del Mar by a nose. Four starts back, she turned away favorite Argentina to "win" second place by a head. Dancing Edie fights back even after the race is lost, and she will fight to the bitter end in the Filly and Mare Turf. At a big price, front-runner Dancing Edie is a must-use in vertical exotics.

The California-based Bordonaro, one of the favorites in the Sprint, bounced out of his Ancient Title victory (119 Beyer) so spectacularly that a bounce is not likely. Typically after a hard race, Bordonaro's coat dulls and he moves "achy" for a few days. Not this time. Only days after his win, Bordonaro's coat was shiny and he was ready to resume training. He looked like he had not even run.

Bordonaro has never been better, and is a confirmed "road warrior," having won at Oaklawn and Gulfstream. Maybe 3-year-old Too Much Bling will run down Bordonaro. Who knows? Henny Hughes might even be good enough. However, Bordonaro is a supreme California speedball. To win the BC Sprint, they will have to catch him.

The Mile is led by Oak Tree Mile winner Aragorn. His one-length win over first-level allowance winner Courtnall was modest, as was his victory one back over good claiming horse Wild Buddy. No matter. Aragorn established brilliance in the summer, winning the two biggest Grade 1 turf races in California - the Shoemaker Mile and Eddie Read. His subsequent races were mere workouts. Aragorn is legitimate, unfortunately at low odds.

Lady's Secret winner Healthy Addiction must improve after a dull 91 Beyer to win the BC Distaff. Healthy Addiction's figure suffered in the Lady's Secret, however, because she was hounded through a hot pace. It was not a strong race, but there is nothing like a fast-pace prep to set up a horse for an odds-beating performance.

The Tin Man has little chance in the BC Turf off his narrow win in the Clement Hirsch. Despite an easy lead, he was fully extended to beat Grade 2-caliber T. H. Approval by a head. The race can be taken at face value - it signals declining form and The Tin Man will be hard-pressed to hit the board in the Turf. T. H. Approval's close finish was mostly the result of the favorite misfiring.

Finally, the Classic, and you have to feel sorry for Lava Man. If the Breeders' Cup were in California, Lava Man might be as much of a lock as Bernardini. Lava Man has done it all this year in California. His Goodwood win on Oct. 7 was professional, and accomplished on an unbiased track.

Stubborn bettors who still believe Lava Man can ship and win, despite contrary evidence, can wager. Good luck. Goodwood runner-up Brother Derek also is unproven outside state lines, and has done little lately to suggest he can defeat the best older horses in the country. Brother Derek finished second in the Goodwood because someone had to.

Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo closed ground and finished third in the Goodwood, a race dominated by speed.

In the year's richest race, the $5 million BC Classic, a third-place finish by Giacomo might be as good as it gets for California.