08/06/2006 11:00PM

Home brings out her best

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DEL MAR, Calif. - There is something to be said for staying at home, in a comfort zone, where the smells and sounds are familiar, the fridge is always full, and the car is tucked away safely in the garage. Home, let's face it, is where your stuff is.

In an admirable career of 21 starts - nine of them victories and all for trainer John Sadler - the 5-year-old mare Healthy Addiction has let it be known in no uncertain terms that she is a home office kind of girl, and that the romance of the road is nothing but a nasty rumor.

She has left the benign climate of Southern California only twice, trying such fine cities as San Francisco and New York, but both trips ended in grim results. Think "The Out-of-Towners" by Neil Simon, without the laughs.

That's too bad, because Healthy Addiction has an A-level homecourt game that stacks up with the best the West has seen in the post-Azeri era. Her victory in the Lady's Secret Handicap at Santa Anita last October was a brave piece of deep-stretch determination against Star Parade and Island Fashion. Her Santa Margarita Invitational triumph earlier this year, also at Santa Anita, was a free-wheeling spree in which she dusted Dream of Summer. Her second-place finish to Hollywood Story in the more recent Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park was a valiant try, coming on again after she was passed to lose by just half a length.

Then, last Sunday in Del Mar's Clement Hirsch, Healthy Addiction accepted the challenge of no less a mare than Happy Ticket and beat her by nearly two lengths, with speed to spare.

"I'm glad Happy Ticket came out here to run," said Pam Ziebarth, who owns Healthy Addiction. "We needed her to shake things up a little. The mares out here had been pretty much taking turns."

True enough. For the past two years, on any given weekend, the leader of the California older filly-mare bracket could have been any one of a half-dozen, including Star Parade and Hollywood Story, who both showed up for the Clement Hirsch.

Most of the attention, though, was rightfully placed upon Happy Ticket, the Louisiana queen, whose splashy record of 12 for 17 was enough to make any of the locals look bland.

Still, it was a whole different brand of pace confronted by Happy Ticket in the Hirsch, not seen by her since last summer, when she romped in the shorter Ballerina Stakes over a muddy Saratoga surface. Healthy Addiction, pressing Maryfield's half of 46.76 seconds, eats that kind of fraction for fun. To no one's surprise, except perhaps those who made Happy Ticket 11-10, Healthy Addiction knocked off a third quarter in less than 24 and kept right on going, while Happy Ticket actually lost ground in the final yards.

Hats off, though, to the Happy Ticket camp for shipping West and sparking the party. Ziebarth and her family got to spend quality time with Happy Ticket's owner, Stewart Madison, in mutual admiration of their mares. Apparently he said all the right things.

"When we met, one of the first things he told us was that he was sitting right on the finish line at Louisiana Downs the day Tiznow won the Super Derby," said Ziebarth. "And he said he was going faster after the finish than he was before."

This would qualify as music to Ziebarth's ears, since Tiznow ranks as the four-legged family hero. Besides being the only two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic, Tiznow also set a 10-furlong track record that day at Louisiana Downs. Tiznow was bred and raced originally for Ziebarth's mother, Cecelia Straub-Rubens, and then for Cee's Stable, which Ziebarth operated with Michael Cooper after the death of Straub-Rubens.

Cee's Stable is still very much in business, but Ziebarth, who lives in San Juan Capistrano, has branched out to buy and breed horses in her own name. Healthy Addiction was a $100,000 purchase at the 2002 Keeneland September yearling sale on the recommendation of agent Kathy Berkey.

"I'd already bought one when Kathy called to tell me about another filly she thought I should buy," Ziebarth said. "When I asked the manager of the farm where I keep them if he had room for one more, I told him it was becoming an addiction. He said, 'Well, at least it's a healthy addiction.' "

By Boston Harbor, Healthy Addiction is headed for Ziebarth's growing broodmare band next year, but not before she runs once more at Del Mar, where she is 3 for 3, and perhaps once or twice in the fall. The Breeders' Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs is not only a possibility, but a fitting final stage for a mare in the best form of her life.

"She was too young the last time the Breeders' Cup was in California," Ziebarth said, referring to the 2003 running at Santa Anita. "Too bad they can't have it at Del Mar this year. But we're playing it by ear. I know she hasn't run well when she shipped. But she's never shipped to Kentucky, and since she's going to be bred to Tiznow there next spring, it wouldn't exactly be a wasted trip."