06/28/2005 11:00PM

Firm footing a big plus for Euro filly Luas Line

Bill Straus
Melhor Ainda, winning the Appalachian at Keeneland, is the favorite among 13 fillies for the American Oaks.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Irish trainer David Wachman walked off the Hollywood Park turf course on Wednesday morning wearing a sizable grin.

"It's firm," he said.

That will not come as a surprise to California racing fans, but to Wachman it confirmed what he needed to know.

For Sunday's $750,000 American Oaks, his filly Luas Line will have the surface that Wachman insists she needs.

"I think she's crying out for it," he said. "She wants fast ground."

The Grade 1 American Oaks has drawn five European-based 3-year-old fillies - Luas Line, Silk and Scarlet, and Sweet Firebird from Ireland; Silver Cup from Italy; and Hallowed Dream from England.

In a way, history is on their side. In the three runnings of the American Oaks, run over 1 1/4 miles on turf, every winner has had a European background.

Megahertz, the winner via disqualification in 2002, began her career in France before joining trainer Bobby Frankel's stable. In 2003, Dermot Weld, who trains Sweet Firebird, successfully invaded with Dimitrova. Last year, Ticker Tape, who began her career in England, scored an 11-1 upset.

Of this year's European team, Silver Cup is the most accomplished, having won 5 of 6 starts and $258,990. She has won her last four starts, including the Italian 1000 Guineas on May 15. She will be ridden by Gary Stevens.

Luas Line has 1 victory in 6 starts, a maiden race last August, but was a game third in the Irish 1000 Guineas over a yielding course at The Curragh on May 22.

"Even in the Guineas, the ground was too soft," Wachman said.

In her most recent start, Luas Line finished fifth in the Group 3 Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot at York on June 15. The race drew 21 starters; Luas Line was closing quickly in the final furlong.

"She was getting home in the last 100 yards," Wachman said.

Wachman, 33, has a 70-horse stable in Ireland. He said the American Oaks makes sense for a European 3-year-old filly that needs a firm course.

"At this time of year, all of the 3 year-old fillies at home have to take on older fillies," he said. "I was always coming here."

A field of 13 is likely for the American Oaks.

The favorite will be Melhor Ainda, who is unbeaten in four starts. Owned by TNT Stud and trained by Bobby Frankel, she won the Sands Point Stakes at Belmont Park on June 5 in her last start.

The Japanese filly Cesario will be well backed. She has won 4 of 5 starts, including the $1.7 million Japanese Oaks over 1 1/2 miles on turf at Tokyo Racecourse on May 22.

The locally based group is led by Three Degrees. She began her career in Europe and has thrived since joining trainer Paddy Gallagher's stable, winning the Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap here on June 5.

A challenge for Splendid Blended

When the original list of invitations for the American Oaks were announced a few weeks ago, Splendid Blended's name was a surprise contender. But after trainer Neil Drysdale watched Splendid Blended work on turf on June 23, she was withdrawn from consideration.

It turns out there is a race for her on Sunday's program after all. The 3-year-old Splendid Blended is a probable starter in the $300,000 Vanity Handicap over 1 1/8 miles, which will be her first start against older fillies and mares.

The winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet Stakes last December, Splendid Blended has made one start this year, finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park on June 4. She set a quick pace and finished only two lengths behind Round Pond.

"She came out of it in good shape," Drysdale said. "It was one of those things - she was too fresh."

Splendid Blended will be trying to become the first 3-year-old filly to win the Vanity since It's in the Air in 1979.

"This is at home, and there is some speed in the race," Drysdale said of why he chose to run Splendid Blended in the Vanity. "She's run well here."

Does that mean that the quick Splendid Blended will not challenge the speedy Andujar in the early furlongs of the Vanity? Drysdale is not saying.

"I don't want to tip the enemy," he said.

Mexican mystery filly in Vanity

The Vanity will be the U.S. debut of Casty, a 4-year-old Mexican-bred filly who has won 14 of 17 starts racing in Mexico and Puerto Rico. By Valiant Nature, Casty has shown speed in many starts. Casty has won 10 stakes, all on dirt, at distances ranging from 6 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/4 miles.

The other probable starters for the Vanity are Hollywood Story, Festival, Healthy Addiction, and Santa Candida.

Hollywood Story won the Grade 3 Hawthorne Handicap on May 7 and was second to Andujar in the Grade 2 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap on June 4. She is also being considered for the $1 million Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park on July 17, but trainer John Shirreffs said he thinks owner George Krikorian will opt to keep her at home.

"I think there is a good chance she will run in the Vanity," Shirreffs said on Wednesday. "I think it's in her best interest to run at Hollywood Park. Shirreffs also cited the unpredictability of summer weather on the East Coast: "Today, it was 88 degrees and raining."

The American Oaks and Vanity are two of the five major stakes run on Sunday's program.

The card will also feature the $350,000 Triple Bend Handicap, a Grade 1 over seven furlongs; the $250,000 American Handicap, a Grade 2 over 1 1/8 miles on turf; and the $200,000 Royal Heroine Stakes, a Grade 3 over a mile on turf for fillies and mares.

The card, which starts at noon Pacific, has a guaranteed pick six pool of $1 million, and guaranteed pools for some exacta, trifecta and pick three pools.

* Del Mar is adding dime superfectas to the betting menu for its 43-day meeting that begins on July 20. The bet was launched on California races earlier this year at Hollywood Park and recently was adopted at Los Alamitos. Del Mar will offer superfecta betting on races with eight betting interests.