01/12/2009 1:00AM

Haka gets her chance to shine


PHOENIX - As the old saying goes, time for the mice to play while the cats are away. Likely champion Stardom Bound is getting ready to possibly launch her 3-year-old season next month. Laragh did the classic hit-and-run, invading to capture the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet, and then was gone.

So Sunday's Grade 3 Santa Ysabel at 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita gives some other 3-year-old fillies a chance to grab the spotlight.

While the Bob Baffert runners (Toro Bonito, Century City) look tough, it may be Christophe Clement who has a girl ready to make a name for herself.

Haka began her career in New York. She was second in her Oct. 5 debut to runaway winner Ain't Love Grand. Shipped west, she rallied well to be third in a turf route at Hollywood Park Nov. 23. Clement wanted another go on the grass, so that's why he entered her there Dec. 18. But rains washed that race off the grass onto the synthetic track. It may have been a blessing in disguise. Under Garrett Gomez the strapping daughter of Dynaformer bounced right out to a clear lead, set a slow pace, and drew off to win with complete ease by 5 1/2 lengths.

We continue to get more proof of what a marvelously versatile sire Dynaformer has been over the years. He's produced top dirt horses (Barbaro, Perfect Drift, Dynever) and top turf horses (Barbaro, Film Maker, Riskaverse, Sand Springs, Lucarno). Haka isn't the first of his offspring and almost surely won't be the last to relish synthetic footing. This isn't to say Stardom Bound need be worried, but there's a significant gap from Stardom Bound back to the rest of the 3-year-old fillies out West. Haka may be able to creep up into the void.

Haynesfield: How good is he?

Some of my favorite horses were die-hard front-runners. There's a certain romance to their stubborn ways. It's incredibly easy to admire such uncompromising tactics, even when they don't always work, and regardless of the result I felt a certain affection for the likes of Winning Colors, The Wicked North, Precisionist, Spend a Buck and J.O. Tobin.

Winning Colors and The Wicked North were cut from the same cloth. They had a relentless, effortless gallop that was just so naturally fast it carried them to the lead and they just kept going. They were very much in line with John Wooden's famous credo: be fast, but don't hurry. They were like balls rolling down the hill, a wonderful circular motion that continued to propel them forward.

Spend a Buck had a bit more mischief to him. He looked as if he was playing keep-away. He didn't rush to the lead, but he wanted it, and he wanted you to know it. Get close? Okay. But that's close enough. He seemed to snicker as he continued to bound clear. Precisionist seemed less teasing, more calculated, at least as he matured. There was a sense of the frolicking puppy in his younger days, but with maturity came judgment. He became more efficient, ruthless, emotionless. He seemed to know how fast he needed to go to be clear early and save enough to stay that way late.

J.O. Tobin was entirely different. He ran as if he was ticked off at the world. The gates would open and he'd go, teeth bared. It was a barely controlled rage, bordering on psychotic, like DeNiro on the screen. You could almost hear him growl.

Well, I may have one to add to the cast.

Haynesfield surely has speed - he galloped them into the ground a la Spend a Buck in Aqueduct's Damon Runyon in the fall. But when he won last Saturday's Count Fleet he was forced into something different - running from off the pace. It didn't matter. Not only was he pinched back at the start but a couple of his rivals that day were hell-bent to make the lead, so rider Ramon Dominguez wisely bided his time. He and Haynesfield sat off the brisk pace and moved up easily on the far turn. Haynesfield had to work some in the lane to put away a stubborn Mike From Queens, but even with that he still won clear.

Haynesfield represent a legitimate Derby candidate for two reasons. First, he has wonderful natural speed that can carry him to the lead and he can sustain. Second, if he's outgunned as he was here that speed can still put him in position and yet there remains another gear that allows him to easily reel in the leaders on the far turn. That handiness cannot be underestimated. Just look back to recent Derby winners like Smarty Jones, Barbaro, Big Brown to see the importance of natural speed to get position, and the ability to relax so there can be a finish, too.