10/18/2007 11:00PM

Lear's Princess unexpected star on the rise

EmailELMONT, N.Y. - Three months ago, if you had told the connections of Lear's Princess that she would be a major contender for the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff, they probably would have looked at you cockeyed.

In her first three starts, Lear's Princess had won a maiden race on Keeneland's Polytrack and an allowance race and something called the Tweedside Stakes on turf. Plans called for her to run in the Grade 3 Lake George Stakes on the turf at Saratoga in late July.

But, in large part because of the trials and travails of Rags to Riches, Lear's Princess was transformed into a conventional dirt horse, and a very good one at that. She is the only horse to have defeated Rags to Riches this year, doing so in the Grade 1 Gazelle, and enters next Saturday's $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff at Monmouth Park as a major player in a widely competitive race.

"If you and I had talked after the Tweedside [on July 1], there's no doubt I would have given you very long odds that we'd be less than 10-1 in the Distaff," said Terry Finley, president of West Point Thoroughbreds, the syndicate that owns Lear's Princess. "But that's the neat thing about racing."

Though she had always trained well on conventional dirt, Lear's Princess didn't race over that surface until the July 21 Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont. The complexion of that race changed dramatically when Rags to Riches, the Belmont Stakes winner, developed a fever and was forced to miss the race.

Lear's Princess finished a solid second to Octave, beaten a half-length in a race where Lear's Princess switched over her to incorrect lead in deep stretch. Lear's Princess came back four weeks later in the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga, where she again had difficulties with her lead changes and was beaten a neck by Lady Joanne, who bumped her at the wire.

After that race, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin opted to put blinkers on Lear's Princess for her next start, which came against Rags to Riches in the Grade 1 Gazelle. The blinkers definitely appeared to make Lear's Princess more focused, and she finished more professionally in beating Rags to Riches by a half-length.

"They certainly weren't a negative," McLaughlin said. "It helped us a little bit, it helped the jock a little bit. Maybe they didn't make any difference, but they certainly weren't a negative. Sometimes they can be a negative and make one too keen."

Lear's Princess, a daughter of Lear Fan, is certainly not an aggressive work horse. On Friday morning at Belmont, she worked an easy half-mile in 49.96 seconds, according to Daily Racing Form, galloping out five furlongs in 1:03.50 under exercise rider Renzo Morales.

"That's all we were looking for," McLaughlin said. "She's plenty fit, has run plenty of races, and she's on a good schedule. The rider loved her, and she went well. It maybe would have been nice to be a little bit faster, but she doesn't need anything."

Despite her successful 3-year-old campaign and the fact that her breeding suggests she should improve as a 4-year-old, Lear's Princess is cataloged to be sold at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky auction on Nov. 4.

Finley said he put her in the sale, along with Breeders' Cup candidates Dream Rush and Irish Smoke, "to keep all of our options open."

"There aren't very many times any operation - a partnership or sole owner - where you have a shot to get some of your chips back," Finely said. "Obviously, we're in it to run fillies like this, and she's been a big help to our business."

"Whoever buys her I hope they want me to train her," McLaughlin said. "We really like her. The interesting thing is next year [the Breeders Cup] is on the synthetic track and she's 1 for 1 on it."

* John Velazquez will ride Indian Vale in the Distaff, while Garrett Gomez will be aboard Octave. Velazquez had the option to ride either filly, and his agent, Angel Cordero, chose Indian Vale in part to repay owner Eugene Melnyk for letting Cordero ride Indian Vale in last year's Cotillion Handicap at Philadelphia Park.

"I owe him a favor for him letting me ride her," Cordero said. "I think they both got a good chance. Either way somebody was going to be hurt."