01/27/2004 1:00AM

Halfbridled wears crown for Mandella


In the weeks leading up to the Breeders' Cup, the speculation was that Halfbridled would be the strongest favorite among the eight races. When Azeri got hurt, it made sense that Sightseek would inherit that title in the Distaff.

Okay, so would be the second-strongest favorite on the card. Still impressive for a 2-year-old filly in a 14-horse field. But, when Halfbridled drew post 14 for the race, many handicappers figured they'd take a shot against her.

They figured wrong.

Under Julie Krone, Halfbridled - who was actually the fifth-strongest favorite on the Breeders' Cup card - demonstrated the characteristics that prompted trainer Richard Mandella continually to use the word "special" when asked about Halfbridled. Halfbridled adeptly handled her assignment from the outside draw and dominated the Juvenile Fillies field by 2 1/2 lengths. Her final time of 1:42.75 for 1 1/16 miles was almost a full second faster than her stablemate Action This Day's winning time in the Juvenile.

That victory capped an undefeated (4 for 4) season for Halfbridled, who on Monday was rewarded with an Eclipse Award as the 2-year-old filly champion. She received all but one of the 248 first-place votes cast, the other vote going to Ashado, who finished second to Halfbridled, but who won three other graded events.

Halfbridled is a daughter of Unbridled out of a Deputy Minister mare, Half Queen. Brothers Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, of Chanel perfume fame, bred and own the filly.

Halfbridled debuted on July 27 at Del Mar and rallied from last for a 4 1/2-length victory. She dominated her West Coast competition winning the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante by five lengths and the Grade 2 Oak Leaf by 4 1/2.

Halfbridled was one of a record four Breeders' Cup winners saddled by Mandella on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita. And while the trainer feigned concern leading up to the Juvenile Fillies because of the post position, on Monday Mandella admitted his confidence wasn't truly shaken.

"When I started the day I would have felt awfully disappointed if Halfbridled would have gotten beat, even from post 14, because I thought she was that much the best," he said.

Mandella also trains Action This Day, the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old colt. It is the third time in 10 years the same individual trained both juvenile Eclipse Award winners. D. Wayne Lukas did it in 1994 with Flanders and Timber Country and Pat Byrne did it in 1997 with Countess Diana and Favorite Trick.

Halfbridled was nominated to the Triple Crown series, but is being pointed down a path designed to get her to the Kentucky Oaks on April 30. She is scheduled to make her 3-year-old debut in the Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 15.