08/03/2006 11:00PM

Hirsch will tell much about Happy Ticket


PHOENIX - Spun Sugar just narrowly won what so far has to be considered the definitive race for fillies and mares back East, when she gamely prevailed in last week's Grade 1 Go for Wand at Saratoga. Coupled with her win in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom earlier this year, Spun Sugar belongs at or near the top of any list of fillies and mares.

But there is little between Spun Sugar and a few others in the division, and many may still rank Happy Ticket at the top of the heap, in spite of the fact she finished second to Spun Sugar in the Apple Blossom.

Spun Sugar held serve in the Go for Wand; now Happy Ticket gets a chance to do the same in Sunday's Grade 2 Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar.

On paper, Happy Ticket looks formidable, but this is a new test. With most of her races having come in the Midwest, she is facing different competition, a different shipping scenario, and a different track. She's playing in their sandbox this time, and rivals Star Parade, Healthy Addiction, and Hollywood Story aren't going to just lie down for her.

There's no doubting Happy Ticket's quality. You don't win 12 of 17 by accident, and this year alone she has been first twice and second twice - and the two losses both came by a neck. She's versatile, too. For instance, she was on the pace dueling all the way when she lost narrowly to Round Pond in the Grade 3 Azeri, but she came from off the pace to win the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs on June 17, beating Oonagh Maccool.

Happy Ticket has beaten Star Parade before, finishing 10 lengths ahead of her in the Apple Blossom. But Star Parade shipped poorly and wasn't herself that day. Once returned West she bounced right back to win the Grade 3 Hawthorne and then rallied strongly be second to Proposed, beaten just a head, in the Grade 2 Milady. That all seemed to set her up perfectly for the Grade 1 Vanity last month, but things didn't go so well.

Star Parade was loaded for the Vanity and ready to go, but threw a fit in the gate, hurt herself, and was scratched. She has worked strongly since, and trainer Darrell Vienna has reported her fine and ready to go. He does have one wish, however.

"I hope she at least gets out of the gate this time," he said.

The main concern with Star Parade is that she has been so successful at Hollywood Park, but a little less so elsewhere. She was off the board in her only two Del Mar outings, including a lackluster fifth in this race last year. She will need to be all the way back to her best to beat Happy Ticket.

And speaking of horses keyed in on one track, Hollywood Story is your ultimate horse-for-the-course. She has four wins, all at Hollywood Park. Still, she rallied smartly in this race last year to be a close second to upset winner Tucked Away, and she comes off a victory in the Vanity at Hollywood last month.

In the end, Healthy Addiction may pose the biggest threat to Happy Ticket. A 5-year-old mare, she has speed and is in good form. She won the Grade 1 Santa Margarita at Santa Anita on March 11, so she can beat top company. She was freshened for a couple months and came back with a modest third behind Star Parade and Hollywood Story in the Grade 3 Hawthorne, and then dueled gamely and missed by a half-length to Hollywood Story in the Vanity. Those two outings set her up perfectly for a big run here, and while Star Parade and Hollywood Story have not won on this course, Healthy Addiction has not lost. She won her only local start, last summer's Adoration Handicap.

The results of the Clement Hirsch can go a long way in determining how Happy Ticket measures up with the West Coast fillies and mares and, by extension, how the West Coast fillies and mares measure up with those from the East.