12/14/2007 12:00AM

Nashoba's Key remains real deal

EmailPHOENIX - Nashoba's Key went into the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf as a big story - she was unbeaten, having won numerous stakes out West, on turf and different synthetic surfaces. There was no telling how good she might be.

She left Monmouth Park having suffered her first career defeat when she finished fourth, beaten two lengths by Lahudood, and as quickly as her star rose, she was a forgotten filly.

Well, that's just an oversight, to be sure, and she can get her name back on the marquee in Sunday's Grade 2 Dahlia Handicap at Hollywood Park. In fact, while the Grade 1 Matriarch is the track's premier race for turf females and was run last month, the Dahlia has managed to lure not only Nashoba's Key but Citronnade, two of the game's elite fillies. Of course, this mouth-watering clash may be on hold - trainer Bobby Frankel reportedly will scratch Citronnade and point instead for Santa Anita's Grade 2 San Gorgonio Handicap on Jan. 6. There is the possibility Nashoba's Key's trainer, Carla Gaines, will employ the same strategy.

Regardless of whether she runs, Nashoba's Key can still re-establish herself among the game's elite, either Sunday or in the coming months. That's because what many handicappers overlooked regarding her loss at Monmouth was that she ran splendidly. Consider all the hurdles - it was her first time away from Southern California, first time on such a soft course, and surely the toughest test of her life. She sat midpack, tried to make a run while inside, and had traffic issues while winner Lahudood and runner-up Honey Ryder had clear sailing. It was to Nashoba's Key's credit that she finished so close.

Gaines came home to regroup, and while she reportedly thought about the Matriarch, she was worried about a couple of things. It was a fairly quick turnaround from such a tough race. Also, the Matriarch's mile distance may be a bit short of what Nashoba's Key prefers. So, she opted to wait.

Nashoba's Key seems to have the handiness to adapt to anything and any kind of trip from a mile and beyond, on turf and synthetic tracks. We all know how good Citronnade is. Well, in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon at Oak Tree in October, Nashoba's Key chased Citronnade early, jumped up to challenge her in the lane, and got the better of Citronnade, but only by three-quarters of a length.

While some may have pooh-poohed Nashoba's Key after the Breeders' Cup, here's one vote that says her Monmouth effort may actually mean she's better than many of us thought - and that's bad news for the rest of the fillies and mares, whether they run into her on grass or on a synthetic surface.

Sneak preview of 2008 Derby contenders?

Next Saturday's Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park is awfully intriguing, not only because of the immediate handicapping puzzle, but also because of the potential impact on the Kentucky Derby trail next year.

After all, no 2-year-old race over the past quarter-century has been a better indicator of major 3-year-old success than the Hollywood Futurity, and it hasn't mattered whether it was the mile edition or the 1 1/16-mile version, which is what we see now. Just take a look at the list of horses who made an impact in this race and then went on to bigger and better things at 3: Snow Chief, Ferdinand, Alysheba, Hawkster, Farma Way, Best Pal, General Meeting, A.P. Indy, Dance Floor, Casual Lies, Valiant Nature, Brocco, Afternoon Deelites, Thunder Gulch, Real Quiet, Artax, Prime Timber, Captain Steve, High Yield, Point Given, Lion Heart, Giacomo, and Brother Derek. Not a bad honor roll, eh?

This year may not carry an immediately recognizable name, but that could change after the race. Colonel John looked good winning the Real Quiet for trainer Eoin Harty, on this track at this trip. Massive Drama and Into Mischief ran one-two in a scintillating display in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue for Bob Baffert and Dick Mandella, respectively. They are at a bit of a disadvantage compared with Colonel John, because neither has raced in a route. Both, however, displayed considerable speed and class and look every bit able by virtue of style and pedigree to handle at least this much ground - Massive Drama is by Kafwain, second in the BC Juvenile, and Into Mischief is by Harlan's Holiday, a Grade 1 route winner, so the blood is there to go at least this far.

The Derby? Well, we can worry about that later. But right now these two look primed to be the measuring sticks out West. Whoever succeeds, expect to hear quite a bit more about these two come 2008.