03/04/2004 1:00AM

'Fortune' unlikely to slow down


ALBANY, Calif. - The connections of the three 3-year-old fillies who will face House of Fortune in Saturday's $75,000-added California Oaks will have to cross their fingers and hope for the best. Because on paper, House of Fortune would win the 1 1/16-mile race every time.

A Cal-bred multiple stakes winner, House of Fortune has recorded five Beyers higher than any of her rivals. She's working well and comes off her highest-rated race.

"She can hold her own, but we'd hook these monsters down here like the Breeders' Cup winner" - Eclipse champion Halfbridled - "so we figured we'd look for an easier spot," said trainer Ron McAnally. "She's been very impressive for us, but we'd rather not knock heads with some of these until we have to."

House of Fortune's Beyers have shown a steady improvement, and McAnally said, "she's still learning."

Since running second in the Grade 2 Santa Ynez, House of Fortune has put together a series of brisk drills.

She followed a pair of 59-and-change five-furlong works with a 1:01.20 work Feb. 25, but the move was just what McAnally wanted.

"She's fit," he said. "That last work, we told the rider not to let her go."

It's hard to imagine McAnally finding an easier spot.

Church Editor is the only other stakes winner in the field, but she has not won since capturing the Black Swan at Fairplex last Sept. 24.

Secret Corsage was second in the Bay Meadows Lassie and Corte Madera, but she beat Church Editor in both of those races.

Te Cuira Mucho just scored a wire-to-wire allowance win at a mile in a slow race.

Everything seems to set up for House of Fortune, who won the Cover Gal Stakes in wire-to-wire fashion at Del Mar and the Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies with a stalking trip.

"She doesn't need the lead, but if there's no speed, she can take the lead and run well," McAnally said.

Secret Corsage or Te Cuira Mucho may take the lead Saturday if jockey Ron Warren wants to rate House of Fortune. But even in that case, House of Fortune has run faster fractions than both and seemingly can take the lead whenever she wants.

One wonders how much McAnally will let her go in the Oaks.

"Somewhere along the line, we're going to have to knock heads with the big fillies," McAnally said.

But not Saturday. This is simply a stepping-stone for her, probably little more than a paid workout. It's hard to see her stumbling here.