09/28/2005 11:00PM

Megahertz trying to go out on top


ARCADIA, Calif. - Sure, there are 13 major stakes scheduled to be run at Santa Anita and Belmont this weekend, all of them bursting with possible scenarios for the Breeders' Cup championship day at the end of the month.

And yes, the animals involved represent a short list of the best the game has to offer, at least at the moment, including Ashado, Rock Hard Ten, Flower Alley, Lava Man, Borrego, Angara, Sweet Symphony, Melhor Ainda, English Channel, Shakespeare, First Samurai, Wild Fit, Woke Up Dreamin, and Stevie Wonderboy.

But don't let the razzle-dazzle fool you. For all the glitz and glam, all the heady reputations on the line, there is only one horse running this weekend who already has earned the overworked title of superstar.

That would be Megahertz.

Only Megahertz has the fan club and the flair, along with all the intangibles that set the superstars apart. She's got the scrappy, undersized appeal of Afleet Alex, mixed with the clockwork consistency of Smarty Jones or Cigar. She's the rock diva without entourage, independent to a fault, brim full of in-your-face attitude and the game to back it up.

In fact, the only thing that keeps Megahertz from even broader popularity is her division. Fillies and mares on the grass are a subdivision of a subdivision, a backwater of competition that was only recognized worthy of its own Breeders' Cup race in 1999, a full 15 years after the series was inaugurated in 1984.

To his credit, owner Michael Bello put up the $90,000 supplementary fee to put Megahertz in the Breeders' Cup loop back in 2003. So far, the investment has not paid off in dollars and cents. But when it comes to his little big mare, Bello keeps score in more personal ways.

"It's a major event in our world whenever she runs," Bello said. "She's become a part of the family, which means there is a lot of anxiety whenever she performs. But she keeps coming through."

Megahertz, a winner of 12 races in the U.S., will be led over for her 25th American appearance Saturday afternoon to run in the $500,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita, presented by the Oak Tree Racing Association as part of a program that also includes the Goodwood Handicap and the Oak Leaf Stakes.

At a mile and one-quarter at level weights and on firm turf, the Yellow Ribbon looks like a slam dunk for Megahertz, unless another mare steps up to run the race of her life. And it can happen. In Yellow Ribbons past, Flawlessly was upset by Super Staff, Janet outfinished defending champ Tranquility Lake, and Plenty of Grace rocked the stands with a 56-1 surprise.

At the age of 6, making what figures to be her last West Coast appearance, Megahertz is seeking the only California bauble that she has yet to win. There is an easy enough explanation, though. She has never before run in the Yellow Ribbon.

In 2002, Bobby Frankel put Megahertz away for the winter after she turned in a rare clunker in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Keeneland. To that point, Megahertz had won her first five American starts and lost the sixth by a nose.

In 2003, after a victory in the John C. Mabee at Del Mar, Megahertz skipped the Yellow Ribbon and instead trained up to the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita. Her stretch run was stopped cold in traffic that day and she ended up fifth, beaten barely three lengths by Islington.

In 2004, Frankel backed off even further, passed both the Mabee and the Yellow Ribbon, and sent Megahertz into battle in the BC Filly and Mare Turf at Lone Star off five months without a race. Alas, the question of her condition never came up. The Lone Star turf was so soggy that Megahertz sank to 11th.

This time around, the Yellow Ribbon and Megahertz have come together at a key point in what is becoming her finest season. No one was surprised when she won the Santa Ana and Santa Barbara handicaps at Santa Anita last winter or the Beverly Hills at Hollywood Park in late June. It was the Beverly D. at Arlington Park, however, that added another layer to the Megahertz saga, when she compensated for an abject dislike of the soft turf to come within a neck of beating Angara.

"You have no idea how good that race was," said Alex Solis, the man aboard Megahertz. "She never liked the turf that day at all. And she still almost won it, on class alone."

Time and again, it is the great ones who adapt and improvise. For the past four seasons, Megahertz has outrun her modest beginnings as a French claimer and her pocket-sized dimensions to face down the best turf mares in the West. And now, with only two more races on her schedule, she has a chance to leave the stage with Hall of Fame credentials if she can parlay wins in the Yellow Ribbon and the F&M Turf at Belmont on Oct. 29, retiring as a champion. Anyone who bets against her will be allowed to join the chorus if she wins.