02/09/2006 12:00AM

Oaks field tougher than expected


ALBANY, Calif. - Trainer Ed Moger Jr. summed up Saturday's $100,000 California Breeders' Cup Oaks at Golden Gate Fields succinctly: "It's a lot tougher than I thought it would be."

The Moger-trained is one of the reasons the 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies is so tough. She just won the $75,000 Burlingame at Bay Meadows by two lengths, but four of her eight rivals also have stakes victories, and two others are stakes-placed. Cases can be made for almost all of the entrants, as only the maiden Political Web seems to be shooting for the moon here.

One of Seam Seeker's rivals, , was entered here in the hopes the race would be an easier spot than Saturday's Grade 1 Las Virgenes at Santa Anita. Suddenly, this spot seems almost as difficult, even though it is ungraded.

Sierra Sweetie's trainer, Jeff Bonde, is considering the Kentucky Oaks as a long-range goal.

"The race in L.A. appeared it might be the Kentucky Oaks early," he said, referring to the Las Virgenes. "I only want to face them on Kentucky Oaks Day. You want to be at your apex in May, not in February."

The California Breeders' Cup Oaks will begin the sorting-out process for talented 3-year-old fillies.

"The key is coming out in good condition," Bonde said. "It's a good race as long as they're handling the distance. My filly still has to prove she can run 1 1/16 miles."

Sierra Sweetie has three stakes victories, including the California Breeders' Championship in her last start, and has never finished worse than second in six starts.

"She's at the top of her game," Bonde said. "She has trained excellent, and she does well when her races are spaced."

Sierra Sweetie will meet one old friend, Bai and Bai. Bai and Bai was second to Sierra Sweetie in the one-mile Carmel at Bay Meadows, beat her in the 1 1/16-mile Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies, and finished sixth in the Cal Breeders'.

"She had a little excuse," trainer Bill Delia said of Bai and Bai's race in the the Cal Breeders'. "She had a throat problem, a little infection that day."

Delia is not afraid of hooking up with Sierra Sweetie again, but cautions, "It's not a two-horse race. Nobody's afraid of our two."

Among others in the race, Private World was 3 for 3 with two stakes victories before a dull try in the Hollywood Starlet. Cross won the Hidden Lite on a disqualification, and Zoemeg finished second just in front of Cross in the Blue Norther.

could be the surprise package in the field. She was second in the Burlingame after being forced to check.

"She's a big, long-striding filly," said her rider, Russell Baze. "She would have been tough with a clean trip."