07/12/2007 12:00AM

Cotton Blossom may need her best again


If one looked strictly at Cotton Blossom's last race, an ultra-sharp win in the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont, it would seem on the surface that Cotton Blossom was probably going to win the Delaware Oaks. But the story is not that simple, and even Todd Pletcher, Cotton Blossom's trainer, lends comfort to the connections of the other seven fillies in the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaks - as well as any horseplayer keen to take a stand against the likely favorite.

"It's hard to have back-to-back performances like that," Pletcher said on Friday at his Belmont Park base.

That's especially true when a horse has never run as well at any time in the past, either. Sure, Cotton Blossom showed talent all along, winning the Schuylerville last summer at Saratoga, and finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. She won the Tampa Oaks to start her 3-year-old campaign, then was a well-beaten second in the Fantasy at Oaklawn and a troubled ninth in the Kentucky Oaks before her breakout, perfect-trip victory in the Acorn, a one-turn mile that had the speedy Dream Rush as a prohibitive favorite.

"She got a good setup," Pletcher said. "She had a good trip behind a fast pace. It looked like Dream Rush was better suited for six or seven furlongs, and we were able to run her down in the final sixteenth of a mile."

The filly that beat Cotton Blossom in the Fantasy, High Heels, is in Saturday's race, as are several others who might be able to win at more attractive odds than Cotton Blossom, who figures to be something in the range of even-money with John Velazquez named to ride.

High Heels, the best horse in the barn of Kentucky trainer Gary Hartlage, was a distant third in the Kentucky Oaks, encountering trouble of her own that day. She faded to seventh of 10 a month ago in the Regret, a Churchill grass stakes, but that start has the whiff of a prep for a more major goal - namely, this race.

Dawn After Dawn, the best horse in the barn of trainer Wes Hawley, was fourth in the Oaks and fifth in the Regret. A couple more locally based fillies, Moon Catcher and Winning Point, also appear to have enough talent to make an impact. And then there is the synthetic-surface contingent: Tough Tiz's Sis and Bear Now.

Tough Tiz's Sis easily won the Hollywood Oaks over Cushion Track in her last start, and has had dirt success, too. Bear Now has turned into a bear on Woodbine's Polytrack, winning two recent stakes there by some 18 lengths combined.

- additional reporting by Mike Farrell