10/15/2003 11:00PM

Plenty are willing to face Halfbridled

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There is plenty of respect, but apparently not a lot of fear of Halfbridled, who figures to be the heaviest favorite on the Breeders' Cup card in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies.

Although Halfbridled has won all three of her starts - including the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante and Grade 2 Oak Leaf - by a combined 19 lengths, there were 13 others pre-entered against her on Thursday in the Juvenile Fillies. It is only the third time in the last nine years that more than 12 horses were pre-entered for the Juvenile Fillies.

"They're not going to give it to me,'' said Richard Mandella, trainer of Halfbridled "I'm expecting good horses to come out here and run.''

Mandella won't be disappointed. The pre-entrants for the Juvenile Fillies have combined to win 25 of 45 starts, including 11 stakes.

In some respects, this year's Juvenile Fillies is reminiscent of last year's running. A year ago, it was the New York-based Storm Flag Flying who was the heavy favorite in the race after three authoritative victories. She lived up to her 4-5 favoritism by battling back to beat Composure by a half-length after relinquishing the lead in midstretch.

Last year, it was trainer Bob Baffert who had the biggest threat to the favorite. Baffert ran a trio of runners in the Juvenile Fillies and finished second and third with Composure and Santa Catarina. Baffert's Atlantic Ocean ran ninth in the 10-horse field.

This year, Baffert has the duo of Class Above and Victory U. S. A. and they could very well be the second and third choices in the race behind Halfbridled.

Class Above, a daughter of Quiet American owned by Padua Stables, is 2 for 2, including a 16-length victory in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies.

"She's working really, really nice,'' Baffert said. "I think two turns, she likes that. A lot of them you don't know how it's going to affect them. It all boils down to class.''

Victory U. S. A., owned by Thomas Van Meter, was classy enough to win her maiden by 6 1/2 lengths first time out. After running a poor third in the Del Mar Debutante, she ran a strong second behind Society Selection in the Grade 1 Frizette.

"The one race you can throw out is when she ran in the Debutante,'' Baffert said. "She wasn't doing as well. Going two turns, she'll handle it well. The thing is, we still got to get them there.''

Baffert is one of three trainers with multiple pre-entrants in the Juvenile Fillies.

D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time Juvenile Fillies winner, has pre-entered Alcibiades winner Be Gentle and Renaissance Lady. John Shirreffs has pre-entered Hollywood Story and Tarlow.

Baffert, who ran one-two in the 1998 Juvenile Fillies with Silverbulletday and Excellent Meeting, said he was surprised by the large number of pre-entrants.

"I thought there might be less horses,'' Baffert said. "They're loading up. People want to be involved. People went out and bought horses to be in there. There's a lot of speed in the race, and that changes the whole complexion of the race and could set it up for a closer. When you get a large field like that anything can happen. There are so many hurdles. [Halfbridled] might be a hurdle, but there are a lot more hurdles than her.''