03/27/2008 11:00PM

Distance could put Herboriste on top

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Michael Matz wasn't happy to learn that the The Very One Handicap had been shortened from 1 3/8 miles to 1 1/8 miles due to the yielding condition of the local turf course on March 8. He was pleased, however, by the performance that afternoon of his filly Herboriste, who finished a late-charging third behind Mauralakana despite the abbreviated distance of the Grade 3 event.

On Sunday, Herboriste will have the chance to avenge that setback at a distance Matz feels is more suitable to her talents, 1 1/2 miles, in Gulfstream Park's $150,000 Orchid Handicap. The Grade 3 marathon drew a field of eight fillies and mares led by Mauralakana, the 120-pound highweight, and Duchess Royale, her uncoupled stablemate. They will attempt to give trainer Christophe Clement his sixth Orchid victory.

Matz said he thinks keeping the The Very One at 1 3/8 miles would have "made a difference" with Herboriste.

"Whether she would have won or not is impossible to be determined," he said, "but I felt a mile and one-eighth is just too short for her, and under the circumstances she ran a very nice race."

Herboriste, a 5-year-old daughter of Hernando, was sent to Matz last summer after beginning her career in France. She has shown steady improvement since beginning her U.S. career at Saratoga in August; a fifth-place finish in Calder's Grade 2 La Prevoyante Handicap at 1 1/2 miles was perhaps her best effort to date.

"This will be her third start of the meet and maybe that's asking a little too much," said Matz. "But she hasn't been beaten more than three lengths in any of her starts since we've had her, and she's an improving filly."

Trainer Christophe Clement felt that shortening the The Very One worked in Mauralakana's favor since the outing was her first start in more than five months. But Mauralakana, a French-bred daughter of Muhtathir, has already proven she's capable of handling longer distances by virtue of her near miss in the 1 3/8-mile Glens Falls Handicap last summer at Saratoga.

Duchess Royale figures to improve off her third-place finish under second-level allowance conditions in her U.S. debut here earlier this month. A Danehill filly, she won her 2007 finale going 1 1/4 miles in England.

Eclisse, Cliffrose, and Hostess, the respective fifth, sixth, and seventh finishers in the The Very One, also return, along with I'm in Love and Leap in the Sun.