01/23/2003 1:00AM

Ivanavinalot leads tough band of invaders


ARCADIA, Calif. - The smallest thing will set off Ivanavinalot, according to her trainer, Kathleen O'Connell. So O'Connell was relieved to see the 3-year-old filly on her best behavior Thursday morning, after a routine gallop at Santa Anita in preparation for Saturday's $250,000 Sunshine Millions Oaks. If all goes well, it is when the gates open Saturday afternoon that everybody better watch out.

Ivanavinalot arrives from Florida with five wins in six starts, a legitimate excuse for her only setback, and the respect of a rival trainer who blanched when he saw Ivanavinalot had arrived in town. With a series of strong recent workouts at Calder, and a pace scenario that should play to her favor, Ivanavinalot heads a strong group of Florida-breds in the seven-furlong Oaks.

"She seems to have done fine here," O'Connell said. "She seems to handle the track well. She's plenty wound up for this race. It's a little nerve-wracking. She's never traveled, and there's a time difference, but she's handled it pretty well. I'm in worse shape than her, probably."

Ivanavinalot has not raced since Oct. 12 and shows a brief workout tab for her return. But O'Connell said the filly is ready to roll, and the filly looked in fine physical condition Thursday morning. Although Ivanavinalot walks awkwardly, she is a stout, strong filly, with powerful hindquarters.

"She walks like a duck, but she runs like the wind, which is all we care about," O'Connell said. "When she didn't make the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall because she got a little sick, we treated her with antibiotics and gave her 30 days of rest. She's been training aggressively. She's done a lot of two-minute licks at home."

Ivanavinalot also has been working five and six furlongs at Calder. "She has plenty of natural speed, so there's no reason to work her three furlongs or a half," O'Connell said. "We've been concentrating on long gallops, getting her air up."

Ivanavinalot drew post 6. With her natural speed, she figures to sit just off of the fleet Humorous Lady, who starts from post 2.

"If Humorous Lady goes out winging, we can sit off her," O'Connell said. "It's not like she needs to be in front."

Ivanavinalot's main rival figures to be Atlantic Ocean, a pricey purchase as a 2-year-old who comes off consecutive Grade 3 stakes victories, including this track's 1 1/16-mile Santa Ysabel Stakes on Jan. 5. Bob Baffert, who trains Atlantic Ocean, said his filly was improving, but he was concerned about both the distance of the race and the presence of Ivanavinalot.

"I wish it was farther. A mile and a sixteenth would be great," Baffert said. "I'm worried about Ivanavinalot. I was hoping she wouldn't come out."

But Baffert thinks Ivanavinalot may find going head and head with California speed horses a challenge. "On paper," he said, "Ivanavinalot's pretty darn fast. But there are some fast fillies here."

Baffert said Atlantic Ocean has taken longer to develop than he first anticipated when she was purchased 10 months ago for $1.9 million.

"She's so big, that's why," Baffert said. "She's not that quick. You can't rush her."

Atlantic Ocean, like Ivanavinalot, was bred in Florida.

The best California-bred runners in the race are Pocketfullofpesos and Long Term Wish, the one-two finishers in the California Breeders' Champion Stakes here on Dec. 27. Pocketfullofpesos, who beat Long Term Wish by three lengths in the Cal Breeders, is seeking her fourth straight victory.

Valentine Dancer, another California-bred, was an easy winner against maidens on Jan. 16, and though she is being wheeled back quickly, she has the look of a filly on the improve. The Beyer Speed Figure of 91 she earned in her last start is second only to the numbers posted by Ivanavinalot.

Elegant Designer, a Florida-bred who is based in Maryland, did not make her scheduled flight this week and is expected to be scratched, which would bring Stonecoldfox in from the also-eligible list.