10/22/2003 12:00AM

Mandella maintains faith Halfbridled will overcome

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The names of 12 of the 14 horses entered for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies had been called and assigned post positions. The two names that remained were Forest Music, a longshot, and Halfbridled, the favorite.

The two posts yet to be assigned were 4 and 14. When emcee Kenny Rice announced that Forest Music had drawn post 4, a murmur began to go through the crowd with the realization that Halfbridled would have to start from post 14. With less than three-sixteenths of a mile run to the first turn at Santa Anita, Halfbridled could find herself either forced to go to the lead or risk getting an extremely wide trip. Jockey Julie Krone will have to make that decision.

Richard Mandella, the trainer of the unbeaten Halfbridled, said he had a feeling halfway through the draw something bad would happen.

"It never seemed so bad when it was other people, but it looks like a long way from the 14 to the 1 to me," said Mandella, who won the 1993 Juvenile Fillies here with Phone Chatter. "She's a great filly, in my mind, and I believe she can overcome it."

There have been only two other runnings of the Juvenile Fillies in which 14 horses left the starting gate. In 1991, when the race was run at Churchill Downs - a one-mile track just like Santa Anita - Pleasant Stage won the Juvenile Fillies from post 14. In 1997, when the Breeders' Cup was held at Hollywood Park, Carrielle, a 27-1 shot, finished eighth after breaking from post 14. According to statistics from the handicapping guide "Crushing the Cup," post 14 is 0 for 1 at 1 1/16 miles from 1995-2002 at Santa Anita. The outside three posts (12-14) are a combined 1 for 10 over that time.

Halfbridled was made the 7-5 morning-line favorite by Oak Tree linemaker Jeff Tufts. Halfbridled is 3 for 3, with her victories coming by a combined 14 lengths. She won the Oak Leaf - run at the Juvenile Fillies distance of 1 1/16 miles - by racing on the lead. Mandella had hoped to take her back in the Juvenile Fillies.

"I want that option left open," Mandella said. "She's gotten pretty serious leaving the gate the last few times. Fine, but I don't want her getting more that way. That's why I've explained that I've controlled her works and tried to keep her from getting buzzed up."

Trainer Bob Baffert will send out Class Above (7-2 on the morning line) and Victory U. S. A. (10-1) against Halfbridled. They drew posts 7 and 8, respectively.

"I hate to have them together like that. I wish they were a little separated," he said.

Baffert said a good break could help Halfbridled overcome her bad draw.

"You really don't like it, but they've been talking about maybe taking her back off," Baffert said. "It doesn't matter what hole you're in. I've had some beautiful holes before and if they don't break it doesn't matter. At least there's nobody on the outside of her to wipe her out."

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas was just as disgusted as Mandella when Be Gentle, winner of the Alcibiades, drew post 13.

"At least we got a little tactical speed. She's able to probably dictate a little bit of the pace," said Lukas, who drew post 9 with Renaissance Lady. "I'd be lying if I said I liked the draw. . . . I never thought the 12, 13, 14 were great posts."

Fans of Society Selection, the Frizette winner, were probably pleased when that filly drew post 6. Ray Ganpath, her regular rider, will make his Breeders' Cup debut.