11/19/2003 12:00AM

Megahertz could give us a rare treat

Email
Horsephotos
Megahertz (left), winning the John C. Mabee Handicap, will face males in the $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The news that petite Megahertz will be running against the big, bad boys on Saturday in the $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup is one of those stop-the-presses kind of stories. A man has just bitten a dog.

Females run against males in California about as often as a bodybuilder is elected governor. Why waste a perfectly good filly in a half-million-dollar race against tough colts when, with a little luck, she can win two or three races against her own gentler sex worth a couple hundred thousand each? It may not be the most sporting philosophy, but it is good asset management.

Megahertz has been racing and training in California all year long, and won the Santa Barbara and John C. Mabee handicaps. She is still going well, as displayed by her solid fifth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, which is a tribute to assistant trainer Humberto Ascanio and the West Coast branch of the Bobby Frankel operation.

But now, as 2003 winds down, Frankel and owner Michael Bello have run out of dances for Megahertz in her own division. The Las Palmas Handicap at Santa Anita was pulled off the schedule at the last minute. The Matriarch at Hollywood Park was sucked back to one mile - not really her best route - and it is either raining or snowing on opportunities back East. So why not the Turf Cup?

"She loves Hollywood Park, and she ran against males back in France," Bello said. "But the biggest factor is the mile and a half. I think that will really suit her. Bobby feels the same way.

"It's been such a thrill to own a horse like this. I just love to watch her run, and you know she'll always be coming on strong at the end."

The era of great mares beating colts belongs to America's distant past. Through much of the 20th century, purses were much better for males than females, and punitive handicaps would force the best mares to seek refuge from excessive weights. From this climate emerged such male-bashing icons as Beldame, Black Maria, Gallorette, Two Lea, Regret, Silver Spoon, Bug Brush, Busher, Shuvee, Honeymoon, and Ta Wee.

The list has grown little, if at all, over the past 30 years. Though purses still do not offer equal pay for equal work, top fillies and mares can make a good living. And handicap weights no longer chase the best mares out of their division.

There have been exceptions, and the Hollywood Turf Cup seems like a good place to try. A handful of fine mares have done well at the 12 furlongs, beginning with the very first running in 1981, when Queen to Conquer gave her Charlie Whittingham stablemate Providential II a run for his money. John Henry, no less, finished fourth.

In the 1983 Turf Cup, John Henry was back, and he had to be on his game to beat the French mare Zalataia. In 1993, Miss Alleged proved her Breeders' Cup Turf win was no fluke by replicating her form at Hollywood six weeks later. Then, in 1992, Trishyde tipped good things to come with a Turf Cup third-place finish behind Bien Bien and Fraise.

Even the conservative Frankel occasionally has given in to the temptation of running a filly against colts. Most notably, he did it with the headstrong Toussaud, dam of Empire Maker, to win the 1993 American Handicap on the Hollywood grass. That performance deserves a place on a select list of noteworthy gender-bending moments at Hollywood Park over the last 40 years. Here are this reporter's favorites:

* Hollywood's summer of 1968 marked a golden age in the lore of fillies meeting colts. First came the Californian, in which Gamely finished second to Dr. Fager. Next, it was Pink Pigeon's turn to dust the boys with her flamboyant, front-running style in the American Handicap on the grass. Then, adding the final flourish, Princessnesian defeated Racing Room and Quicken Tree in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

* No taller than a hitching post, Time to Leave was as fast as any Thoroughbred ever to run in California. In the 1970 Lakes and Flowers Handicap, she set a Hollywood track record of 1:07.80 for six furlongs, while giving runner-up Jungle Savage six pounds. In 1971, Jungle Savage was the only horse to beat Ack Ack.

* On June 17, 1972, Typecast was the noble loser of her riveting Hollywood Park match race against Convenience, a gut-wrenching nine furlongs that came down to a desperate head. Typecast rebounded out of that race with a vengeance and, just one week later, defeated male turf star Cougar II in Hollywood's Invitational Turf Handicap at 12 furlongs.

* Snow Chief was the toast of California in 1986 after winning the Preakness and the Jersey Derby. The Silver Screen Handicap at Hollywood was supposed to be a homecoming coronation, but someone forgot to tell Melair, the brilliant gray filly owned by retired schoolteachers Bea Rous and Marianne Millard. An obviously frustrated Snow Chief finished 11 lengths behind Melair's one-turn mile in 1:32.80, the fastest ever by a filly on dirt.

Megahertz might not be Melair, Typecast, or Toussaud. But she has earned her shot to write a page of Hollywood history.