10/26/2007 12:00AM

Favorites can expect battle up front

EmailOCEANPORT, N.J. - Dream Rush has won 6 of her 8 career starts, including two Grade 1 races. La Traviata is undefeated and virtually untested in three starts. But both 3-year-olds have achieved their impressive resumes using similar front-running styles that could potentially clash when they meet for the first time in Friday's inaugural $1 million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Monmouth Park.

Dream Rush, a daughter of Wild Rush, rose to the top of her division this summer for trainer Rick Violette with front-running victories in the Grade 1 Prioress and Grade 1 Test stakes. She suffered one of her only two setbacks when rated off the lead in her 2007 debut this winter at Gulfstream Park.

La Traviata has been on or with the lead in each of her three victories, one of which came at Monmouth in the 5 1/2-furlong Post Deb Stakes. She also was in front at every call despite a poor start en route to her 9 1/4-length victory in Saratoga's Grade 3 Victory Ride Stakes.

Dream Rush and La Traviata are not the only two speed types in the six-furlong Filly and Mare Sprint. Shaggy Mane has not been outrun to the lead in her last 11 starts, while Oprah Winney also is at her best in front.

"This is such a weird race," Violette said. "There are a lot of fast, fast fillies in the field. So many 21 and 44 types. But if my filly breaks well, she might just take it to them all. There looked like a ton of speed in the Test Stakes, too, and she just ran away from them."

But Violette also is not conceding the race should Dream Rush not get the lead.

"We won't take back, but if one or two of them is faster, she'll be right on their heels and hopefully in a good spot near the inside," Violette said. "That little schooling we gave her this winter, when she got some dirt kicked in her face, might have cost us that race but could wind up helping us Friday."

The potential for a hotly contested pace figures to enhance the chances of late runners like Maryfield, Wild Gams, Jazzy, and Miraculous Miss.

Maryfield was once a speed type herself but became a closer "pretty much by accident" earlier this year, according to trainer Doug O'Neill.

"We owe that to Jorge Chavez," O'Neill explained. "She broke slow in the Distaff Breeders' Cup at Aqueduct, so Jorge took her back, let her relax, and she finished up strong. We didn't know she had that in her. Previously, we thought she was the type of filly that had to be involved with the pace and one who wouldn't pass other horses."

Maryfield has not started since rallying from midpack to outfinish Baroness Thatcher by a nose and upset Saratoga's Grade 1 Ballerina at seven furlongs.

"Along with changing her style, we've also realized she runs well fresh," O'Neill said. "She'll be shortening up from seven furlongs to six on Friday, but sometimes that's better because like in this race you're more likely to get a legitimate pace."

Trainer Ben Perkins Jr. is looking for a similar scenario for Wild Gams, who enters the Filly and Mare Sprint off a come-from-behind win over the Polytrack in Keeneland's Grade 3 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes.

"You certainly have a lot of speed with those two brilliant 3-year-olds in the field," Perkins said in reference to Dream Rush and La Traviata. "My filly is fast but runs her best when you take hold and let her sit. She's also run well at Monmouth, which favors a quick, athletic horse, and I'm hoping she can just break well from her post and settle in behind the leaders."

Jazzy rallied from near the rear of the pack in her first two U.S. starts, both on grass, but was closer to the pace winning the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Stakes in her main-track debut.

Miraculous Miss was also closer to the lead than usual when beaten a nose last month in Philadelphia Park's My Juliet Stakes, but has always done her best from far back - a style that resulted in three straight graded stakes wins at 3.

Baroness Thatcher finished a troubled third behind Wild Gams after breaking from the rail in the Thoroughbred Club of America.