10/25/2007 11:00PM

A high-priced favorite -- but who?

EmailOCEANPORT, N.J. – This year's edition of the Breeders' Cup Distaff is so competitive that reasonable handicappers such as Daily Racing Form linemaker Mike Watchmaker and Monmouth Park oddsmaker Brad Thomas disagree on who will be favored in the $2 million race.

Watchmaker believes Unbridled Belle, at 4-1, will be the favorite. Thomas thinks it will be Indian Vale (3-1). The one thing that seems certain is that whomever the public makes the favorite, she will be the longest-priced choice in the history of the race. Fleet Indian, sent off at 5-2 last year, currently has that distinction.

Indian Vale and Unbridled Belle are but two of many among the 12 fillies and mares entered that could win the Distaff at Monmouth Park. The field has combined to make 169 starts, finishing in the money 133 times, or 78.6 percent.

As consistent as this group has been, Lear's Princess and Unbridled Belle appear to be the two that are coming into the race with the biggest upside. Lear's Princess, a 3-year-old daughter of Lear Fan, comes in off a win over Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches in the Grade 1 Gazelle. She was equipped with blinkers for the first time, and finished off her race much more smoothly than when she was second to Octave in the Coaching Club American Oaks and to Lady Joanne in the Alabama, at 1 1/4 miles.

Also, Lear's Princess has had six weeks since her Gazelle victory, something trainer Kiaran McLaughlin believes works in her favor.

"We like our filly a lot," McLaughlin said. "She's training very well. This is the first time we've actually pointed for a race with proper timing."

Lear's Princess will break from post 7 under Eibar Coa.

Unbridled Belle, one of three in here trained by Todd Pletcher, has improved dramatically from her 3-year-old season. She overcame a troubled trip to win the Grade 1 Beldame over Indian Vale, two races after she won the Delaware Handicap. She has four wins from five starts with Ramon Dominguez up. Dominguez will have to work out a trip on Unbridled Belle from post 11.

"I've got a lot of confidence in Ramon's ability," Pletcher said. "He knows the filly well. We got a little bit of run to the first turn, so hopefully by the time we get there he can tuck over in a position he's happy with."

Indian Vale is 6 for 6 in 1 1/8-mile races run around two turns, the configuration of the Distaff. She has been beaten three straight times by Unbridled Belle. With her speed, Indian Vale may not be too compromised by drawing post 10.

Pletcher will also send out Octave, a multiple Grade 1-winning 3-year-old who is coming off a second-place finish to Bear Now in the Cotillion at Philadelphia Park. Octave, second in last year's Juvenile Fillies, may be overlooked by most handicappers, which Pletcher said "could be a mistake."

Ginger Punch finished third behind Unbridled Belle and Indian Vale in the Beldame, but prior to that established herself as the East Coast's top distaff runner with wins in the First Flight, Go for Wand, and Ruffian. Trainer Bobby Frankel believes the 22 days between the Ruffian and Beldame was not adequate for his filly, who will break from post 4 in the Distaff.

Lady Joanne defeated both Lear's Princess and Octave in the Alabama. She prepped for the Distaff by running in the Spinster over Keeneland's Polytrack, where she set the pace before finishing second.

"I think Polytrack that day, it was a little better if you could lay two, three, or four off it, then make a run," trainer Carl Nafzger said. "I expect she'll run her best race."

According to trainer Reade Baker, Bear Now is coming off the best race of her life when she won the Cotillion. Though many expect her to be on the lead, Baker said his filly can rate if need be.

"I don't think we'll be in a duel, because if we get in that position we're going to try and take back out of it," said Baker, who will have Jerry Baird ride his filly from post 6.

Hystericalady, who won the Molly Pitcher over this track in August, will likely have to use her speed from post 12. While unhappy with the outside post, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is extremely happy with the condition of his filly.

"I think we have a filly that can get the distance and that right now is at the top of her game," Hollendorfer said. "She's peaking as far as looks go, and is training very well. We're going to go in with a very positive attitude."

California shippers Balance and Tough Tiz's Sis complete the field.