09/20/2005 11:00PM

Monashee must buck 46-year trend

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - It has been 46 years since a filly has been good enough to win the British Columbia Derby. But the connections of Monashee think she might have what it takes to beat the boys in what appears to be a wide-open renewal of the Grade 3, $250,000 British Columbia Derby on Saturday at Hastings.

The last filly to win the B.C. Derby was Ky. Music in 1959, ending a procession of fillies who won the race in the 1950's. My Ladylove, in 1955, and Ali Miss, 1956, also won the derby. But since 1959, the closest a filly has come to winning the most prestigious race in the province was in 1996, when Strawberry Morn finished third. Strawberry Morn, who had been off for seven weeks with a minor injury, held a clear lead going into the stretch but was nipped at the wire by Newdigs and Timely Stitch. Strawberry Morn was one of the best fillies or mares to ever run at Hastings, and she is a member of the local Hall of Fame.

Monashee has a long way to go before she's going to be considered in the same league as Strawberry Morn. Nevertheless, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Wolf Power is on a three-race winning streak, and her win in the Grade 3 British Columbia Breeders' Cup Oaks was very impressive. Also, while the field for the B.C. Derby is very strong, there don't appear to be any monsters. The top local horse, Alabama Rain, has a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 80. Monashee equaled that figure in the Oaks, and according to her trainer, Tracy McCarthy, she appears to be peaking right now.

"She's wilder than a March hare," McCarthy said from Keeneland. "She's sound, happy, and ready to run. In an ideal world we would run her against her own sex, and we were considering waiting for the Ballerina. But that would be six weeks between races, and since she's doing so well, we'll give her a shot in the derby."

Going into the Oaks it looked like Monashee might be one-dimensional. After all, she had won all of her races by either being alone on the lead or battling for the front spot with another horse. Under a brilliant ride by Justin Stein in the Oaks, Monashee proved she's capable of coming from off the pace. She broke on top, but when a couple of horses on a suicide mission joined her, Stein eased her all the way back to fifth. Monashee rated beautifully, and when Stein asked her to run at the quarter pole, she took control of the race on the stretch turn and drew off to win by a comfortable three lengths. Given that she's a lightly raced filly with only eight career starts, it's possible that she will take another step forward in the derby.

"Her versatility is one of the reasons we're going to run her," McCarthy said. "She has good speed, so she should be able to get a good position early, but, like in the Oaks, if she has to come from behind, we know she's capable of doing that as well. She also doesn't care what type of track she runs over."

McCarthy said she thinks the ones to beat are Alabama Rain and the top three finishers in the Emerald Derby: Alexandersrun, Norm's Nephew, and Timeless Passion. But the trainer doesn't discount the chances of Hotenuforyoo, whom she also plans to enter.

Hotenuforyoo won the Ky. Alta Handicap at Northlands Park on July 16, and when he ran back in the Count Lathum at Northlands on Aug. 6, he fell over a horse who went down in front of him at the three-eighths pole.

"He was in the garden spot, and it looked like he was going to win another stakes race when the incident occurred," McCarthy said. "He's kind of a plodder, and I think he'll do well going a mile and an eighth."

Another horse who had a troubled trip at Northlands was Alabama Rain, but he was still good enough to win the Grade 3 Canadian Derby on Aug. 27 by 4 3/4 lengths. Alabama Rain is clearly the leader of the local 3-year-old division, and with $408,774, he's the top earner in the field. He's trained by two-time B.C. Derby winner Lance Giesbrecht, a veteran who said he thinks that being locally based will help Alabama Rain's chances.

"You just never know how they're going to handle the track," Giesbrecht said. "We've brought a few in for the derby, and Squire Jones was the only one that got it done. Alabama Rain is training excellent, and really, if you consider to trouble he was in, he probably should have won the Canadian Derby by 10 lengths."

Giesbrecht said he is hoping for a better trip in the B.C. Derby.

"He's going to need a clean trip," he said. "This is a much, much tougher field than he faced in Alberta, and you aren't going to win this race if you get into trouble."

Giesbrecht also won the derby with Bobbin for Stars in 1997.

Trainer James Orr also appears to have a very live horse with Norm's Nephew, who arrived at Hastings from Emerald Downs on Monday. Norm's Nephew has won four of his seven starts this year, and in his last start finished a very close second to Alexandersrun in the Sept. 5 Emerald Derby. Orr is also the exercise rider, groom, and hotwalker for Norm's Nephew.

"I've never had a horse like this before, and just being able to run in a race like this is an honor," Orr said. "I think position going into the first turn will be critical."

On Tuesday, Orr just jogged Norm's Nephew a couple of times around the track.

"I like the surface and I think he'll handle it just fine," Orr said. "I'll do more with him in the next couple of days."