02/16/2006 1:00AM

Private Gift tops strong Pippin field

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - There are no easy answers in the $50,000 Pippin Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares that drew a host of stakes winners, including Private Gift, La Reason, Culinary, Platinum Ballet, and Ballroom Deputy.

could go favored in the eight-horse field following her 2 1/4-length win over some of these last out in the $75,000 Truly Bound Breeders' Cup Handicap at the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs on Dec. 24. She earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 95, which is the highest last-race number in the Pippin.

"She's been training good and blew out nice [Wednesday]," said Neil Howard, who trains Private Gift.

Private Gift is a half-sister to Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Status and Grade 3 winner Alumni Hall, and she has won her last two starts, both at 1 1/16 miles. She can be closer to the pace than some of her rivals on Saturday and will be ridden by Robby Albarado.

, a Grade 2 winner of $645,371, is the richest member of the field. She is another who can be close to the pace. La Reason will be moving back to dirt after a rare turf appearance last out in which she closed for second in the Grade 3, $250,000 Bayou Breeders' Cup Handicap at the Fair Grounds meet on Jan. 14.

"She can lay off of it, or she can be in front if she has to be," said David Vance, who trains La Reason for K and K Racing.

Terry Thompson has the mount on La Reason, who worked a bullet five furlongs in 59.80 seconds in her final prep for the Pippin.

has won two stakes in her last three starts, capturing the $75,000 Furl Sail during the Fair Grounds meet on Dec. 17, and the $40,000 Sam Houston Distaff at 1 1/16 miles in her last start Jan. 21. In the Distaff, she closed from off the pace for a half-length win over Lucky Sabre and Ballroom Deputy, and figures to threaten late again on Saturday.

"We're going to let her run the style of race she likes, which is settle and finish," said Michael Stidham, who trains Culinary.

* The forecast for Saturday is freezing rain and a high of 31 degrees.