04/30/2008 12:00AM

Oaks dozen looking more like 11


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Two fillies might be better than one, but not when one draws the 12 hole and has the Kentucky Derby as an alternative. Without Eight Belles, the 134th Kentucky Oaks still will get a Larry Jones filly, Proud Spell, as a major contender, and the 100,000-plus racing fans who will descend Friday on Churchill Downs are sure to judge the filly classic as even more competitive than before.

The outside post in the Oaks, combined with an early pick at the Derby post draw, clinched the decision for Jones and owner Rick Porter in saying they intended to scratch Eight Belles, who is the morning-line choice for the Grade 1, $500,000 Oaks. The defection would leave 11 fillies, led by Proud Spell, Pure Clan, and Country Star, to state their case in what so far has been an excellent division.

Pure Clan, a stretch-running filly who came to hand here last fall in sweeping the Pocahontas and Golden Rod Stakes, will be looking to run them down in a similar manner Friday. Trainer Bob Holthus hopes jockey Edgar Prado is able to get a decent trip after the filly breaks from post 11.

"Edgar is going to have to figure a way to save some ground somewhere," said Holthus, who began training in 1952.

Pure Clan is owned in part by the IEAH Stable syndicate, which also co-owns the Derby favorite, Big Brown. IEAH bought into Pure Clan before she began her 3-year-old season with runner-up finishes in the Honeybee and Fantasy at Oaklawn Park.

Proud Spell (post 8) surely would be a clear-cut Oaks favorite if not for her third-place finish in the recent Ashland Stakes on the Polytrack at Keeneland. In her six prior races, Proud Spell had never run worse than second, but Jones and the filly's owner, former Kentucky governor Brereton C. Jones (no relation), both believe Polytrack - she was making her first start over the synthetic surface - was at least partly to blame for the so-so performance.

"The best thing about this filly is her tremendous heart," said Brereton Jones.

Three other Oaks starters exit the Ashland: Little Belle, the upset winner at 16-1; Bsharpsonata, a game second after getting a short lead in midstretch; and Country Star, fifth as the even-money favorite.

Country Star (post 6) looks the toughest to figure wheeling back. After capturing back-to-back Grade 1 races to end her 2-year-old season, Country Star had no mishap in the Ashland, her only race this year, after which Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel blamed himself for the defeat, saying he thought she would benefit greatly from the race and would be better prepared for the Oaks. Frankel already has two Oaks wins with Keeper Hill in 1998 and Flute in 2001.

Little Belle (post 7), trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, will try to validate her Ashland upset. Racing for the first time under the Godolphin blue after previously campaigning in the Darley Stable maroon - both powerhouse stables are owned by Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum - she will be going for a fourth straight win after starting her career with three straight losses to Aqueduct maidens.

Bsharpsonata (post 10), trained by Tim Salzman, has been nothing if not versatile and resilient, as her 6 wins from 10 career starts have come over a variety of surfaces and distances.

The rest of the Oaks field is Golden Doc A (post 1), Absolutely Cindy (post 2), Awesome Chic (post 3), Elusive Lady (post 4), Rasierra (post 5), and A to the Croft (post 9). Of those, maybe A to the Croft is a playable longshot, if one can forgive her recent Polytrack races and completely dismiss her race last fall in the slop in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Rasierra is the lone supplemental entry to the race, having been made eligible by a $25,000 late payment.

Churchill issued two morning lines for the Oaks. The first line, which will be printed in the track program and elsewhere, lists Eight Belles as the 5-2 favorite, while the second accounts for her being scratched, with Proud Spell as the 5-2 favorite and the odds on several other fillies dropping accordingly.

The Oaks is the first leg in the Oaks-Derby double, the two-day wager that Churchill first offered in 1996. Last year, more than $2.3 million was handled on the Oaks-Derby double.

The Oaks is the 10th of 11 races on the card, with post time for the first race at 11 a.m. Eastern, and the Oaks set for 5:45 p.m.

Five stakes are featured on the Oaks undercard. From the fifth through ninth races, they are the $100,000 Aegon Turf Sprint, $300,000 Louisville Stakes, $150,000 Edgewood Stakes, $150,000 Alysheba Stakes, and $150,000 Crown Royal American Turf.

ESPN2 will provide three hours of coverage from 3 to 6 p.m.

Among the wagering options on the Oaks are the superfecta (first four finishers in order) and the new Super High Five (first five in order). Primarily because of the large ontrack crowds, no 10-cent superfectas will be sold anywhere on the Oaks, nor on any other Churchill race Friday or Saturday. Both the superfecta and Super High Five carry $1 minimums.

Advance wagering on the Derby will be available all day Friday at Churchill and many other outlets.