11/01/2001 12:00AM

Likely favorite Fragrant Cloud smells like a winner


ARCADIA, Calif. - Short on experience but long on raw ability, Fragrant Cloud has emerged as the favorite for the $125,000 California Cup Juvenile Fillies on Saturday at Santa Anita. There is good reason.

"I don't know if she has the experience of the other ones, but she's got talent," trainer Paco Gonzalez said, adding "I don't think the distance will be a problem."

After winning her sprint debut by 4 1/2 lengths, Fragrant Cloud will try to stretch her speed to two turns in the 1 1/16-mile race, the fifth on the card. The Juvenile Fillies is the first leg of the pick six, which has a $1 million guaranteed pool.

Beyond likely favorite Fragrant Cloud, the Juvenile Fillies is a scramble. None of the 11 entrants is a stakes winner, and none has won at a route. While four are stakes-placed (Mama Mama, Believe In Slew, Lady George, and Shalini), the best alternatives to the favorite are recent maiden winner Paster's Dutchess and Calista's Star, recent runner-up in a one-mile starter allowance.

Based on pedigree, Fragrant Cloud should have no trouble staying the distance. Bred by her owners, John Toffan and Trudy McCaffery, Fragrant Cloud was sired by Smokester and produced by Netaka, who is by With Approval. Netaka won a maiden race at 1 1/4 miles, and finished second in two allowance routes, before EPM (equine protozoal myeloencephalitis) ended her career after just four starts. Fragrant Cloud is Netaka's second foal by Smokester. Her first, Ninebanks, is a low-level allowance runner with two wins, both around two turns.

Fragrant Cloud broke into the game Oct. 5 with a smashing 4 1/2-length win at six furlongs. The effort earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 85, tops in the Juvenile Fillies field. In the month since then, Gonzalez has trained her with the sole intent of sending her long.

"I've been working her long, and letting her gallop out after her works," Gonzalez said. "When she worked five-eighths (Oct. 26 in 59 seconds), she galloped out a mile (in 1:36.20). The whole family ran long, and she won easy. I don't see any reason why she can't go long."

Alex Solis rides Fragrant Cloud, who will have no easy time of it from the inside post. Most of the fillies drawn outside are coming out of sprints, inviting the possibility of a hot fractions. To win, Fragrant Cloud must cope with pace pressure, and stay two turns, in just her second career start.

Gonzalez, along with McCaffery and Toffan, are 3 for 7 in Cal Cup races, having won the 1999 Classic with Bagshot, 1999 Juvenile with Spacelink, and 1997 Mile with Gastown.

If inexperience catches up to Fragrant Cloud, a case can be made for several others, including Paster's Dutchess. The filly, a half-sister to allowance-class Meet Me In Dixie, was claimed off a $32,000 maiden claiming win Oct. 18 by Jack Carava. Two turns? No problem.

"She acts like she'll run all day long," Carava said. "She's huge, she's long, and she looks like she'll run a mile and a half." In her maiden win, Paster's Dutchess earned a 65 Beyer and was not slowing down at the wire. The filly she beat (Miss Guts) was scheduled to start favored in race 8 on Thursday. Paster's Dutchess is now owned by Samuel Mevorach.

* The Juvenile Fillies is sponsored by by radio stations XTRA 690 and FOX 1150.