05/20/2005 11:00PM

Essence brings outstanding credentials


Essence, a graded stakes winner last fall, gets her second tuneup of the season on Monday at Delaware Park.

The 4-year-old Essence, trained by Todd Pletcher, heads a group of eight fillies and mares in a $50,000 overnight stakes at 1 1/16 miles. The race serves as the local stepping-stone for the $100,000 Obeah Handicap at 1 1/8 miles here on June 18.

Essence ended last year with a victory in the Grade 3 Anne Arundel at Pimlico and an off-the-board finish after leading for nearly a mile in the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park. Essence returned five months later and scored a neck victory in a third-level allowance at Keeneland three weeks ago. It was a good effort considering she raced wide throughout the 1 1/16-mile race.

Pletcher chose to scratch Essence out of last Friday's Pimlico Breeders' Cup Distaff Handicap at Pimlico in favor of this spot.

Her main competition in Monday's stakes figures to come from India Halo, a 5-year-old with good credentials in South America and decent dirt form in Florida.

India Halo began her career in Argentina, where she won a Group 3 race at 1 1/4 miles and was stakes-placed at the Group 1 and 2 levels. She is 1 for 4 since coming to trainer Michael Matz's barn last winter. Last time out, India Halo finished fourth, beaten 11 3/4 lengths by the talented D'Wildcat Speed, in the Grade 2 Rampart Handicap at Gulfstream. Isola Piu Bella and Pampered Princess, who finished second and third, both came back to win next time out.

"Those horses she ran against are pretty nice fillies," Matz said. "She ran a nice a race in her last start and she will be facing different company [Monday]. So, we will just see what we've got."

Grinch and Grant's Moon appear competitive in this spot.

Grinch, part of a Joe Orseno-trained entry with Can You See Me Now, won the Pennsylvania Oaks last September at Philadelphia Park and ran a big race to finish second to repeat winner Think Fast in a high-priced optional claimer at Aqueduct in her first start this year. She will be making her first start since late March.

Grant's Moon has won two of her last three starts - all at 1 1/8 miles - and has not been worse than second in four outings this year. She finished second in a restricted stakes at Pimlico three weeks ago.