06/30/2008 12:00AM

Gotta Have Her can go to head of her class


PHOENIX - The primary power among the turf marathon fillies and mares appears to be in the East, with Mauralakana, Rosinka, and others.

California's strength among turf fillies seems to lie in the middle-distance runners - Precious Kitten, Ventura, and Diamond Diva, for example

It's a solid bunch of stayers out West, mind you, but no one has truly stepped up and separated herself from the pack. That may change come Sunday's Grade 2 Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood Park.

To illustrate how closely matched some of these fillies and mares are, the first six finishers of the Grade 2 Santa Barbara at Santa Anita April 19 - run at the same 1 1/4-mile distance as the Beverly Hills - were separated by 1 1/2 lengths at the finish. All of them are back in the Beverly Hills.

Still, it's new shooter Gotta Have Her who may be ready to take command of the group, or win the Beverly Hills at least. Gotta Have Her showed potential in the spring of 2007 at Santa Anita, with third-place finishes on the turf in the China Doll and Grade 3 Providencia, looking as if she might take trainer Jenine Sahadi places. She tried Cushion Track at Hollywood in May and finished sixth, then got back on turf and finished second in a Golden Gate allowance, and then won a Del Mar allowance by 4 3/4 lengths. That set her up to dive into the deep end, the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks.

After prompting the pace, Gotta Have Her ran into a wall of horses, lost her position, and was unable to recover - finishing a well-beaten fifth behind race winner Rutherienne. She rebounded nicely, leading wire to wire in the Harold C. Ramser at Santa Anita, and again Sahadi tried deeper waters, this time the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere at Churchill Downs on Nov. 10. Gotta Have Her appeared to be in a good position, pressing the issue, and was in the thick of the race to midstretch. But then she fell apart, finishing ninth, well behind race winner Bit of Whimsy.

Gotta Have Her got sick after that and didn't race again until June 4 in a third-level allowance at a mile on the turf. She bided her time and blasted home to win going away. She's worked well since, posting a bullet 1:11.40 six furlongs at Santa Anita on June 20 and a strong four furlongs in 47.40 there on Thursday.

So, for the third time, Sahadi sends Gotta Have Her into the deep end, and maybe this time will be different.

International flavor to American Oaks

One of the best things to come out of the Hollywood Park meet in recent seasons was the advent of the Grade 1 American Oaks. There wasn't any clamoring for a 10-furlong turf race for 3-year-old fillies, and it didn't seem to fill any need as far as preparing these fillies for shorter races such as the Garden City or Del Mar Oaks. So, Hollywood Park was taking a chance.

Well, the American Oaks has worked out well, apparently filling a need. Over the years some East Coast powers have shipped in and won. Panty Raid won last year, Wait a While the year before. We've also seen European fillies run well (Dublino, Dimitrova, and Valbenny), and some Japanese runners who held their own (winner Cesario, runners-up Dance in the Mood and Asahi Rising).

This year's American Oaks, to be run next Saturday, looks no different. Though there won't be an entrant from Japan, the international flavor continues, and in a big way.

Carribean Sunset is expected to ship in from Ireland for trainer Dermot Weld. This is something to take seriously because Weld is well-known for shipping all over the world and winning. In fact, he brought the Dimitrova here a few years ago for this race. Carribean Sunset is a two-time Group 3 winner in Ireland. She was fourth in the Group 1 Irish 1,000 Guineas May 25 and third in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes at Ascot behind the talented Lush Lashes on June 20. If she brings that kind of form here, she'll be very tough.