09/26/2006 12:00AM

Dirt's behind her

Wait a While romps in the American Oaks at Hollywood.

As detours go, the one taken by Wait a While this year was fairly productive, with a pair of stakes wins and placings in two of the biggest races of the year for 3-year-old fillies, the Kentucky Oaks and Ashland Stakes. Yet as good as she was in those races, she has been without peer among her age group when running on turf.

After making seven straight starts on dirt following a win against maidens on turf, Wait a While returned to grass this summer, and picked right up where she left off, with overpowering victories in the American Oaks at Hollywood Park and the Lake Placid Stakes at Saratoga. On Saturday, she will attempt to keep her perfect grass record intact, seek a berth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, and take on elders for the first time in the Grade 1, $400,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

This will be the second trip Wait a While has made to California, but it could have been her fourth. She was scheduled to come West last fall, but when grass racing was canceled at Hollywood Park, so were plans to run her in the Miesque Stakes. She finally returned to Hollywood Park this summer for the American Oaks, which she won in a runaway by 4 1/2 lengths. Her trainer, Todd Pletcher, also thought about coming West for the Del Mar Oaks, but decided on the Lake Placid instead. She was scheduled to travel from Belmont Park in the middle of the week for the Yellow Ribbon.

Pletcher also had been considering the Flower Bowl at Belmont Park and the Queen Elizabeth II at Keeneland - both next month - as Breeders' Cup preps, but thought the Yellow Ribbon was the best option.

"She appears to prefer firm turf, and the chances for firm turf in California are good," Pletcher said Tuesday. "Spacing-wise, it's good from her last race, and it's five weeks before the Breeders' Cup."

Like Lava Man, California's best older horse, Wait a While - a gray filly by Maria's Mon - has proven to be the rare horse who can compete in Grade 1 company on both turf and dirt. It was serendipity that put her on dirt. When the Miss Grillo Stakes was rained off the turf last fall at Belmont Park, Wait a While stayed in the race and cruised to an easy win on a sloppy track. Another off-track win at Gulfstream Park this winter, in the Grade 2 Davona Dale, kept her on the path to the Kentucky Oaks. After the Oaks, though, Pletcher wanted to get her back on turf. But Belmont's Sands Point was rained off the turf on June 3. Again, Wait a While threw mud in the eyes of her rivals.

"We decided to go blindly into the American Oaks, but she showed that was her preferred surface," Pletcher said. "She did what we were hoping she'd do when we were finally able to put her back on the grass. Her American Oaks was sensational, and she was arguably just as impressive in the Lake Placid."

Wait a While is the best horse owned by Alan and Karen Cohen, who own the 500-acre Arindel Farm in Ocala, Fla. Pletcher's stepmother, Joan, is a real-estate agent in Ocala, and it was through her and Pletcher's father, J.J., that Cohen was put in touch with Pletcher.

"He met my dad and my stepmom when he was looking for real estate in Ocala, and expressed an interest in owning some horses," Pletcher said.

One of the first horses Pletcher bought with Cohen was Wait a While, who cost $260,000 at a 2-year-olds in training sale at Calder in February 2005. "Her work was good, but her gallop-out might have been the best of the sale," Pletcher said. "She's a big, scopey filly who looked like she'd need a route of ground."

Cohen is the former co-chairman of Andrx, a Davie, Fla., company that makes generic drugs. In 2001, Cohen headed a group of investors that purchased the National Hockey League's Florida Panthers; Pletcher also trains for Eugene Melnyk, the owner of the Ottawa Senators.

Two years ago, Cohen purchased a farm that had been used for raising black angus cattle and turned it into Arindel. He hired as his farm manager Cody Richardson, 32, a Kentucky native who relocated to Ocala after working for his father, Larry, and at Darby Dan Farm. This winter, at a Panthers game in Florida, Cohen told a visitor that he enjoyed the atmosphere at the farm even more than the racetrack.

"He's real genuine, a T-shirt and shorts and tennis shoes kind of guy," Richardson said of Cohen.

"Right now, we have about 25 horses on the premises - mares, yearlings, and weanlings," Richardson said. "The master plan is to make it a full-fledged broodmare operation. We've been buying mares. We're trying to get really good stock - low on quantity, but high on quality, kind of modeled after the Phipps family."

Among the broodmares purchased by Cohen through Richardson are Cat Appeal, Emory Board, Halory Leigh, and Zappardo Ardo. Wait a While - named for a favorite phrase of Cohen's father, Stanley, who died this summer - will join that group when she is done racing. Looks like now, and forever more, she will remain on grass.