10/31/2007 11:00PM

Imagine goes extra mile in Cal Cup Distance preparations

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - The fifth-place finish by Imagine in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Stakes in September ended a two-race winning streak for the 4-year-old filly, and confirmed for trainer John Shirreffs that she needs extra attention before and during races.

Shirreffs was alarmed when Imagine became nervous in the paddock before the race, and when she raced wide and in the clear throughout the Yellow Ribbon. He is taking steps to avoid a repeat of those things for Saturday's $100,000 California Cup Distance Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on turf at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting.

Shirreffs brought Imagine to Santa Anita from his Hollywood Park base in the middle of the week to give her extra time to be schooled in the paddock. During the race, jockey Corey Nakatani will be under instructions to get Imagine behind some of her eight rivals in the Distance Handicap, and not race her in the clear.

"The other horse in front of her can do all the work for her," Shirreffs said. "She can shut it off and follow along until it's time to go.

"She never got covered up" in the Yellow Ribbon, Shirreffs said. "She was three or four wide and never had a horse in front of her."

Owned by breeders Marty and Pam Wygod, Imagine was beaten six lengths by Nashoba's Key in the Yellow Ribbon. Nashoba's Key has won 7 of 8 starts and was fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Monmouth Park last weekend.

There are no fillies and mares of that caliber in the Distance Handicap.

"We expect a good race out of her," Shirreffs said of Imagine. "She's been training well."

Imagine, 4, is proven at the distance, having won the CTT and TOC Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on turf at Del Mar on Aug. 24, her first stakes win.

Also proven at the distance is Memorette, the winner of the Gradeo2 Beverly Hills Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on turf at Hollywood Park in June 2006.

Memorette, 5, has lost 10 consecutive races, including a fourth in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Stakes. She was beaten 3 3/4 lengths by Nashoba's Key.

A start against California-bred females is a welcome respite for her, trainer Bill Currin believes.

"It certainly is easier than she what she has been facing," he said.

Currin was encouraged by Memorette's third-place finish in the Grade 1 John Mabee Handicap at Del Mar in August. Precious Kitten and Dancing Edie, the first two finishers, returned to win stakes.

"I thought she ran a helluva race," Currin said of the Mabee. "I thought she would win it. If she runs that race back, I think she can win it."

The field also includes defending champion Special Heather, who has made only one start this year, finishing sixth in the Solana Beach Handicap for statebred fillies and mares at Del Mar. That loss has left trainer Paddy Gallagher confused about what to expect on Saturday.

"She trains good, but she trained good down at Del Mar," Gallagher said. "She didn't seem to fire."