07/26/2007 12:00AM

Ermine ready rain or shine


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Ronny Werner had no explanation for Ermine's disappointing fourth-place finish in the Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs. He's hoping he won't need one after his Grade 1-winning filly faces five rivals in Saturday's $250,000 Go for Wand Handicap at Saratoga.

The Grade 1 Go for Wand will be decided at 1o1/8 miles, with the winner earning an automatic berth into the starting lineup for the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Ermine finished fourth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths by Indian Vale, as the 2-1 favorite in the Fleur de Lis. In her three previous starts this season, the 4-year-old daughter of Exchange Rate won the Apple Blossom and finished second in the Santa Margarita and Santa Maria handicaps, all Grade 1 events.

"Her last start was disappointing, without a doubt," said Werner, who trains Ermine for Oxbow Racing. "We couldn't find anything significantly wrong with her after the race, so I'm just chalking it up as a bad day and we'll just come back swinging again Saturday."

Ermine, the 119-pound highweight in the Go for Wand, may have to show a little more speed than usual if nobody runs early with Teammate.

"She's versatile enough to put her where she needs to be, and I prefer her to have a stalking trip," Werner said.

The threat of rain Saturday should not prove an obstacle for Ermine, who won an allowance race by seven lengths over a sloppy track during fall 2006.

"I'd rather have a fast track, but she'll handle it if it's off," Werner said.

Teammate will be joined by her uncoupled stablemate Miss Shop from the barn of trainer Allen Jerkens. Both horses won Grade 2 races earlier this year but are coming off subpar performances behind Take D' Tour in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap.

"I don't remember ever seeing a race where the second quarter is run in 21 and change like it was in the Phipps and the horse in front still wins," Jerkens said. "It was a strange race, and I think Teammate might have gotten intimidated when trying to stay with the winner through the fast pace. You can make all kinds of excuses why a horse didn't fire, but when it comes down to it, very few run well all the time unless they are world champs."

Ginger Punch is a steadily improving filly who was beaten a neck by Take D' Tour in the Phipps. She returned to win the Grade 2 First Flight Handicap by five lengths when turning back to seven furlongs on July 8. Ginger Punch was no match for Ermine in the slop last November, but appears to be in far superior form for the rematch.

Soul Search and Plaid complete the compact lineup.