12/28/2005 12:00AM

Road warrior Leave Me Alone comes full circle


ARCADIA, Calif. - Leave Me Alone's 2005 racetrack tour ends on Saturday where it began, Santa Anita.

Back in January, she beat maidens here in her second career start and later in the meeting placed in a minor stakes. After that, her career took off. She raced at five other racetracks and won three stakes, most notably the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga in August.

Saturday, Leave Me Alone seeks her second Grade 1 win in the $250,000 La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies over seven furlongs.

A California-bred who cost owner Steven Mitchell $35,000 as a yearling in 2003, Leave Me Alone has grown up quite nicely. This year, she has 5 wins from 9 starts and earnings of $535,970.

"To have thought that she would do what she has done, forget about it," trainer Eric Kruljac said.

Leave Me Alone's campaign has been all the more remarkable considering the amount of travel she has endured. In between trips to Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, and Keeneland, she was based at Santa Anita with the rest of Kruljac's stable.

"We finally don't have to jump on an airplane and fly 3,000 miles," Kruljac said, looking forward to the La Brea.

Not that Kruljac minded those journeys. After winning the Melair Stakes and finishing fourth in the Hollywood Oaks at Hollywood Park, Leave Me Alone won the Azalea Breeders' Cup Stakes at Calder in July, the Test Stakes, finished second in the Grade 1 Gazelle Stakes at Belmont Park in September, and eighth in the Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland in October.

By far, the highlight was the seven-length win against eight rivals under jockey Kent Desormeaux in the Test. The emotion that welled up in Kruljac after that race took him aback.

"I wrestled for the state championship and played both ways for the state football championship," he said, recalling his high school days in Arizona. "I never knew what it was like to have that kind of emotions. It was overwhelming. I wondered, 'Why me?' Just going on the track to pick her up, it was special."

Desormeaux realized how much the moment meant for Kruljac.

"I remember the elation in Kruljac's face, the emotion," Desormeaux said. "You could tell it really meant a lot to him.

"Her performance was out of this world. I don't think any horse in the country could have beat her that day."

Leave Me Alone has three consecutive bullet workouts at Santa Anita, an indication there will be no repeat of her disappointing run in the Raven Run. Before that race, Kruljac expressed concern about the depth of the Keeneland track, and whether Leave Me Alone could handle it. She was beaten 12 1/4 lengths, failing as the 4-5 favorite.

"When we went to Keeneland I kind of blamed the track, about how deep it was and how it just compromised everyone's chances that didn't train there," Kruljac said. "That was her fourth trip to the East Coast, she was knocked out, and had lost a lot of weight. Her blood was horrible. We took one too many trips back."

Had she won the Gazelle Stakes, Kruljac and Mitchell could stake a claim to the 3-year-old filly title. But with only one Grade 1 victory this year, Leave Me Alone's chances are slim, and Eclipse Award ballots were due on Wednesday, three days before the La Brea. Only one 3-year-old filly has won two Grade 1 races this year - Smuggler in the Mother Goose Stakes and Coaching Club American Oaks.

Kruljac is focusing on Saturday's race, trying to win a Grade 1 race at his favorite track.

"She's really flourishing," Kruljac said. "She's a young horse and has passed hurdle after hurdle. This is going to be a big challenge, even though it will be her backyard."