09/14/2011 1:23PM

Fairplex Park: Candrea returns to prep in Phil D. Shepherd Stakes

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POMONA, Calif. – Does the path to the Breeders’ Cup run through Fairplex Park?

It might for Candrea, the 2-year-old filly expected to be heavily favored Friday in the $50,000 Phil D. Shepherd Stakes at the Los Angeles County Fair.

Bob Baffert trains Candrea, whose auspicious debut was a July 7 maiden race at Hollywood Park that she won by more than three lengths while geared down, earning a 75 Beyer Speed Figure.

The race established Candrea as the favorite for the Grade 3 Sorrento Aug. 5 at Del Mar, but she got sick and did not enter. The setback essentially ruined her summer campaign. Del Mar did not card an allowance race for 2-year-old fillies the entire meet; the only option for Baffert was to train Candrea for a possible start Sept. 3 in the Grade 1 Debutante.

It would have been a tough spot in which to return, and Baffert already had Dreamcaster in the Debutante field. Meanwhile, the calendar pages continued to turn, which brings Candrea to September with an unbeaten r é sum é that still includes just one start.

Baffert believes Candrea is a top filly, and he may use the seven-furlong Shepherd as a prep race for a Grade 1 route.

“If she runs well, I can swing her back in the Oak Leaf,” Baffert said this week via text from Keeneland.

The Oak Leaf is Oct. 2 at Santa Anita.

Baffert has won the Oak Leaf six times, but never with a filly that prepped at Fairplex. A good effort Friday in the Shepherd would give Candrea a much-needed tune-up before an Oak Leaf showdown with Weemissfrankie, Self Preservation, and Egg Drop.

Candrea’s main foe Friday is a filly she beat first time out by nearly nine lengths. Lasso From El Paso, however, has something Candrea lacks – an uninterrupted campaign. Fourth in her debut, then seventh to Candrea, Lasso From El Paso put it all together Aug. 10 with a front-running victory in a $55,000-62,500 maiden-claimer in which she earned a 77 Beyer.

Eric Kruljac trains Lasso from El Paso, who could be the speed of the seven-furlong Shepherd.

Other starters include I Sense Your Luck, debut winner July 21 at Del Mar in a $50,000 maiden-claimer; Duality, a maiden shortening from one mile; and Real Dream, 2 for 4 with a career-high Beyer of 62. Wild Hickory also entered.

Candrea and jockey Martin Pedroza are listed at even-money on the preliminary morning line.