09/26/2003 12:00AM

Halfbridled stretches out in two-turn Oak Leaf


ARCADIA, Calif. - In her debut, she swooped past the field and drew clear. In her next start, she came through the inside without flinching. Two starts into her career, Halfbridled has scored two runaway victories while displaying a level of maturity that California's gubernatorial candidates would be wise to emulate.

As such, Halfbridled is ranked at the top of the 2-year-old filly division, and has been compared, both in performance and physical presence, to former champion Phone Chatter.

The comparisons are obvious. Richard Mandella trained Phone Chatter, and now, a decade later, he has Halfbridled. Both are tall, leggy fillies who cover plenty of ground with each stride. Mandella is hoping the comparisons will also include similar stakes victories in the fall of their 2-year-old seasons.

In 1993, Phone Chatter won the Oak Leaf Stakes and subsequently captured the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, both during Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting. Halfbridled will take her first step toward completing that same parlay on Sunday. Halfbridled figures to be an odds-on favorite in the Grade 2, $250,000 Oak Leaf Stakes, the West Coast's final major prep for the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies on Oct. 25.

"She compares a lot to Phone Chatter," Mandella said. "She's the same tall, rangy filly, but she still moves like a gazelle, with great action. She gets over the ground well.

"In two starts, you couldn't ask her to be more professional. She acts like she's been doing this all her life."

Halfbridled has been highly regarded by Mandella since early in her training. "She did everything right," Mandella said. "Three weeks in, you could see she was doing three times what we were asking her to do. She was never a big secret around the barn."

Since she is by Unbridled, Halfbridled figures to have no trouble stretching out around two turns, which she will do for the first time in the 1 1/16-mile Oak Leaf.

"I'm hoping she continues to relax and sit back a little," Mandella said. "She's got speed. You can put her where you want."

Halfbridled drew right in the middle of the seven-horse field, in post 4. Jockey Julie Krone should be able to place Halfbridled wherever she pleases, as there is no significant early speed to her inside.

Mandella also will start Lovely Rafaela, who won a one-mile maiden race at Del Mar on Sept. 4. She added blinkers after finishing fifth in her debut while sprinting.

"She didn't set the world on fire breaking her maiden," Mandella said, "but she got so little out of her first race. She's going to have to turn up the flame a little in order to beat the other filly."

Trainer John Shirreffs entered two fillies, and they drew the outside two posts. Hollywood Story is still a maiden, but she finished second to Halfbridled in the Del Mar Debutante in her last start. She also was second to the highly regarded Victory U. S. A. in their debut.

Tarlow, Shirreffs's second runner, overcame a rough start to beat maidens when sprinting in her debut at Del Mar on Aug. 16.

Renaissance Lady is making her seventh start at her seventh different racetrack. She has finished second in four stakes races, most recently the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies.