06/08/2006 12:00AM

Gorella rates edge facing females


ELMONT, N.Y. - Wend is a classy, multiple-stakes-winning mare, and Mirabilis continued her run of solid North American performances with an upset of Wend in the Distaff Turf Mile on the Kentucky Derby undercard. But the filly that really jumps off the page in Saturday's Grade 2, $300,000 Just a Game Handicap at Belmont Park is Gorella.

That is because in 2 of her last 3 starts, turned in excellent efforts against some of the best turf males in the nation.

Last fall in the Breeders' Cup Mile, going a mile over a wet Widener Turf Course at Belmont Park - the same conditions she will encounter Saturday - Gorella suffered a traffic-filled trip. Despite that, she was beaten less than a length in finishing third, and was only a nose short of second behind Leroidesanimaux, who went on to be voted last year's champion turf male. And in her last start, also on the Kentucky Derby undercard, Gorella was beaten less than two lengths in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic by English Channel, who will attempt to enhance his status as perhaps the top turf male in the nation later on Saturday at Belmont in the Manhattan Handicap.

"We know that with a bit of luck, she could have won the Breeders' Cup last year," said Patrick Biancone, trainer of Gorella. "And with a bit of luck, she could have won her last race. She needs to run covered up, but there was no pace in [the Woodford Reserve]. When you're boxed in, you usually can come out. But she was only able to come out the last 50 yards, and she went from eighth to fifth in just a few jumps.

"The only reason why we ran her against colts on Derby Day," Biancone said, "was to see how she would like the Churchill Downs turf, and how she would like going longer, because the Breeders' Cup filly race on turf is there this year. It was an education race for us. So, if we found out she didn't like Churchill, we would have looked at something other than the Breeders' Cup with her. But we were very pleased with her race, and now she goes back to a more normal program against fillies and mares."

Rain in New York virtually guarantees the Just a Game will be run over "off" turf, but that should not bother Gorella.

"She ran well in France, and the turf is never firm there," Biancone said.

The footing also doesn't figure to hinder . "She worked on soft ground [Monday], and she handled it okay," said her trainer, Bobby Frankel.

But the conditions could be a concern for , who finished sixth on off turf in the Beverly D. and Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf last year.

The three others entered in the Just a Game are Ozone Bere, Bright Abundance, and Pommes Frites.