03/02/2006 12:00AM

Honey Ryder takes shorter option

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Though Honey Ryder is the defending champion of the marathon The Very One Handicap, circumstances dictate that she begin her 5-year-old career in the shorter Honey Fox Handicap. Both Grade 3 turf events have a purse of $100,000 and will be supporting stakes on Saturday's 11-race card at Gulfstream, highlighted by the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth.

Last year, trainer Todd Pletcher started Honey Ryder off in the Suwannee River Handicap, where she finished fourth before taking The Very One at 1 3/8 miles. Pletcher did not seek a prep for this year's The Very One, now contested at 1 7/16 miles, which is why he has chosen to run Honey Ryder in the Honey Fox, run at 1 1/16 miles. has not run since winning the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor last Oct. 23.

"I didn't feel like 1 7/16 miles was the right distance to start back the year,'' Pletcher said. "It's a long year; she hasn't run since the E.P. Taylor. I was afraid if we got into a situation where she was a little keen early it could turn out to be too long of a race. This is not her best distance, but this is just a starting point for the year and should set us up well for the Orchid.''

The Grade 2, $150,000 Orchid Handicap, a 1 1/2-mile turf race, will be run here on April 1.

In addition to returning at less than her ideal distance, Honey Ryder, at 121 pounds, must spot the rest of the field weight while appearing to be at the mercy of a slow pace.

Conversely, is 3 for 3 at 1 1/16 miles, 2 for 2 at Gulfstream Park, and has shown a propensity to fire fresh. Wend, away from the races since finishing sixth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf last Oct. 29, has won races off seven- and nine-week layoffs.

Wend, who reeled off five consecutive turf victories last year, has been training steadily at Payson Park and should relish Gulfstream's firm turf course.

"She's doing very well, everything's going very good,'' trainer Bill Mott said. "I'm hoping this is a prep for something else. There's nothing very big on the schedule this early in the season. This is just a place to start her. She's ready.''

Edgar Prado will ride Wend from post 3.

is another who enters the Honey Fox idle since the E.P. Taylor, where she was beaten a half-length by Honey Ryder. Ambitious Cat has been extremely consistent since last spring, with three wins, four seconds and a third from nine starts. She was beaten almost 10 lengths by Wend in an allowance race, one in which she encountered trouble.

For those who like their horses with more recency, Brunilda comes off a neck victory over the stakes winner Path of Thunder in a classified allowance race here on Feb. 10.

Olaya heads The Very One

Olaya will seek to remain unbeaten in North America when she takes on 10 challengers in the The Very One Handicap.

A daughter of Theatrical, Olaya came to the U.S from France last fall as a 3-year-old and promptly defeated her elders in the Grade 2 Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct going 1 1/2 miles. She shipped down to Florida and began her 4-year-old campaign with a hard-fought three-quarter-length victory against Ready's Gal in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race.

Stretching back out in distance in this spot should be an advantage for Olaya, who defeated males in a listed stakes in France last June.

"I think this is more this filly's deal,'' trainer Graham Motion said. "The distance is what she's going to appreciate. We got away with it last time because she was very fresh.''

Noble Stella, who finished ninth in this race last year, has handled the 1 1/2-mile distance in the past and comes off a third-place finish in the La Prevoyante at Calder in December.

Dynamite Lass has been close in her last three stakes tries, but is an unknown at 1 1/2 miles.