06/04/2008 11:00PM

Longer distance a big question


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - At 1 1/8 miles on turf, the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap for 3-year-old fillies Saturday at Hollywood Park tests the limits of sprinter-milers while offering passage to one of the biggest races of summer.

The Grade 1, $750,000 American Oaks is closing in. But before anyone dreams of that 1 1/4-mile contest July 5, their filly must go farther than she has before. It won't be easy.

Only one of the nine Honeymoon starters, Bel Air Sizzle, who won a maiden race in March, has attempted the nine-furlong distance, and visual impressions of many in the field suggests the division is about to divide. Nothing wrong with a career as a miler, but the farther they run, the higher the purses become.

The Honeymoon is race 7 on an 11-race card with four stakes, and the top weights in both turf-race handicaps are up against it. The gelding Lava Man faces a tall order as the 121-pound highweight in race 5, the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap.

Same with 121-pound Honey-moon topweight Sweeter Still, whose pure grit produced three wins and a nose loss in four starts this year. But in the Grade 3, one-mile Senorita Stakes last out, she benefited from a dubious non-disqualification, and possibly exposed distance limitations.

Sweeter Still drifted out badly through the lane, labored through a final quarter in 24.60 seconds, and won by a nose over Magical Fantasy, who was floated out by the winner. The final quarter was among the slowest of the meet at one mile, and suggests Sweeter Still is up against it at 1 1/8 miles. Martin Garcia rides for trainer Jeff Mullins.

Missit is the most likely winner, although she has not raced beyond a mile. Ranked as one of the top 2-year-old fillies last fall in England after going 1 for 5 and finishing second in a Group 2, Missit won her United States debut for trainer Ben Cecil like a top-class filly. Despite not having raced in four months, she was hammered to favoritism in the Grade 2, one-mile Providencia, which she won by a nose after a final quarter in 22.80 seconds.

Missit was flattered when three fillies she beat returned to win. Runner-up Sweeter Still won the Senorita, third-place Bel Air Sizzle won an allowance, eighth-place Starry Pursuit won a sprint stakes. Missit ran fast, beat a good field, and if she provides the same kick Sunday at a longer distance, she can win the Honeymoon under Victor Espinoza.

Misty Ocean ships in from Northern California, where she demolished suspect rivals in two turf routes. Her class remains questionable, but a 5 1/2-length win last time in the $75,000 Golden Poppy at Golden Gate Fields suggests the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained filly is up to the task. Joel Rosario rides Misty Ocean, who could set the pace.

Divine Legacy appears outclassed; Lethal Heat is trying two turns for the first time; Gorgeous Goose had trouble last out but has lost three times to Sweeter Still; Fire n' Brimstone is in tough; Magical Fantasy can improve off her tough-beat

U.S. debut.