08/16/2009 12:00AM

Magical Fantasy best when fresh

Benoit & Associates
Magical Fantasy has been given plenty of time off since winning the Gamely on May 30.

DEL MAR, Calif. - It has been a long, steady climb to the top for Magical Fantasy. She runs infrequently, wins barely, and only improves a shade each start.

Yet beyond a deliberate campaign that includes photo-finish victories in graded stakes in her last two starts, Magical Fantasy still packs plenty of stretch-kick flash. Sunday at Del Mar, she can show it in the Grade 1 John C. Mabee Stakes.

Ten fillies and mares entered the 1 1/8-mile grass race, and though Magical Fantasy's most recent race was way back on May 30, in the Grade 1 Gamely, the neck victory established her as leader of the California female turf division.

So what has Magical Fantasy done the past 2 1/2 months except train and eat? Not much, just as planned.

"She runs well when we space her races," trainer Paddy Gallagher explained for the layoff. And after winning the 1 1/8-mile Gamely, the only race left at Hollywood Park was one mile.

"We decided to keep her stretched out and point for this race," Gallagher said, referring to the $350,000 Mabee, in which the winner receives an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

Magical Fantasy has won 4 of 15, including the Del Mar Oaks one year ago. If she is legitimate Breeders' Cup-caliber, which is debatable at this point, Magical Fantasy and jockey Alex Solis should make short work of her Sunday rivals.

The field for the Mabee includes improving front-runners Tuscan Evening and Patricia's Gem, upset candidate Gotta Have Her, and graded-stakes-placed Charming Legacy. The outsiders are Meydan Princess, Bel Air Sizzle, Visit, and Briecat. Lethal Heat will scratch.

Magical Fantasy "seems to improve a little bit at a time" Gallagher said. "It would be nice to think she could keep doing that to the end of the year."

Magical Fantasy overcame slow fractions winning the Gamely, and severe traffic trouble winning the Grade 2 Santa Barbara one race before that. In both starts, she unleashed a huge late kick to get up.

The likelihood of a legitimate pace in the Mabee flatters the running style of Magical Fantasy, whose upset victory one year ago in the Del Mar Oaks stamped her as a Del Mar horse-for-course.

"She trains and acts good here," Gallagher said.

While nine furlongs is perfect for Magical Fantasy, it represents a hurdle for Grade 2 winner Tuscan Evening, who has not raced beyond 1 1/16 miles.

"Until they do it, it's a challenge," trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said. "But we think she is capable of doing that, and she showed she can run from off the pace."

Tuscan Evening set the pace in five previous U.S. starts, but in her most recent start she sat second behind Patricia's Gem before winning by a nose.

From the inside post, Tuscan Evening and jockey Joel Rosario may need to use their speed early. Patricia's Gem also figures to contest the pace. A front-runner who won three straight before finishing second in the Royal Heroine, Patricia's Gem showed fight last time when she battled Tuscan Evening to the wire.

Patricia's Gem "won her first three races without raising a whip on her, and I think when Victor [Espinoza] went to the whip it startled her," trainer Richard Mandella said.

Patricia's Gem fought back late and lost by a nose.

If front-runners Tuscan Evening, Patricia's Gem, and Briecat hook up, a deep-closing longshot worth considering is Gotta Have Her, trained by Jenine Sahadi.

"She's changed dramatically," Sahadi said. "A year ago, she was on the lead pulling. She is a lot more relaxed now. Her style has changed."

If good luck and bad luck eventually evens out, then Del Mar owes one to Gotta Have Her. In the 2007 Del Mar Oaks, she was blocked through much of the stretch before finishing fifth of 10.