01/05/2004 12:00AM

Not your typical skittish filly

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ARCADIA, Calif. - A star may have been born on Sunday at Santa Anita, but the labor pains were considerable.

A.P. Adventure, still unclear on the concept, did very little right and still won the 1 1/16-mile Santa Ysabel Stakes by nearly four lengths. It was not a pretty sight, until the very last part, when she leveled off for Alex Solis and put in a fabulous run of 50 yards or so.

That was all it took to dispatch the more experienced Salty Romance, whose last appearance came under the lights at Delta Downs just one month ago, when she was greeted by tuxedoed attendants in the winner's circle after winning a big slot pot.

With a furlong to go in the Santa Ysabel, Mike Smith thought he might be home and dry again with Salty Romance. So did opposing trainer Wally Dollase. A.P. Adventure, the daughter of A.P. Indy who is Dollase's new best girl, was acting very much like a duck out of water as she gawked and balked her way around the final turn and into the stretch.

"She was just looking at the horse right in front of her," Solis said later, still shaking his head. "I tried everything to make her understand she had to go on and get to work."

Ah, but all work and no play might make A.P. Adventure a very dull girl. After missing the break and galloping around the first turn like a baby giraffe, she was clearly treating the Santa Ysabel as if it was nothing more than afternoon playtime. It took a couple of whaps from the whip of Solis to get her attention - tough love works again - and suddenly all was forgiven.

"She wasn't drawing a deep breath there beside us in the winner's circle," said Bob Lewis, who owns A.P. Adventure with his wife, Beverly. "Of course, she only really ran hard the last part of the race."

That was enough, at least against the kind of field assembled in the Santa Ysabel. Henceforth, A.P. Adventure will be thrown to the wolves, and if she is to survive, she will need to grow up fast.

"Under pressure, fillies are usually nervous and high strung," Dollase pointed out Monday morning from his Hollywood Park stable. "Not this filly. She's like an old cow, and she really reminds me a lot of Good Journey - make a real nice riding horse. My granddaughter Brittany has already adopted her as a favorite.

"That's why I was surprised to see what she did, especially turning for home when she looked like she wanted to jump the nearest fence," Dollase went on. "Maybe it's my fault, I don't have a lot of horses - right now just three 3-year-old fillies - and when you don't have a lot of horses you're at a disadvantage when it comes to working them a lot in company, things like that. But A.P. will catch on fast, because she's one of the most intelligent fillies I've ever been around."

To place his comparison in context, some of the other fillies that the 66-year-old Dollase has been around include Sharp Cat, Supah Gem, Desert Lady, Sapphire Ring, and champion Jewel Princess. Good Journey, on the other hand, was an old pro grass horse who won the Citation Handicap twice and the 2002 Atto Mile.

"She's not like most fillies," Dollase insisted. "Most fillies aren't what I call brave. They might be fast, and have lots of ability. But they will be running scared. A.P. is just the opposite."

Just watching A.P. Adventure in action on Sunday required a certain amount of courage from those closest to her, as well as the players who made her odds-on in the betting.

Fortunately, Bob Lewis is a battle-tested survivor of some real thrillers over the past decade, including the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Dubai World Cup victories of Silver Charm (head, head, nose) and heartbreak losses in two runnings of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (head, half-length) and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (neck).

This time last year, the Lewises were aiming high with Composure, who dominated Elloluv and the rest of the West Coast 3-year-old fillies with wins in the Las Virgenes Stakes and Santa Anita Oaks. Composure's career was ended by injury after the March 8 Oaks, and she was subsequently bred and then sold at the November Keeneland auction for $3.6 million, carrying a foal by A.P. Indy.

By the time Composure left the scene, A.P. Adventure was safely in the Lewis fold - a $425,000 replacement part purchased at the Fasig-Tipton February sale of 2-year-olds at Calder.

"A.P. Adventure was already named when Wally bought her for us," Lewis said. "And although I am not a superstitious person, I didn't think it would be a good idea to change it."

With two wins from her two starts, and fully exposed as a stakes-class filly, A.P. Adventure now will be required to mix it up with local division leaders Halfbridled and Hollywood Story in this year's version of the Las Virgenes, scheduled for Feb. 15. Lewis, a natural born fan, is already excited.

"That's going to be fun, isn't it?" Lewis said. "We look forward to it. Bring 'em on!"