01/08/2010 12:00AM

Search on for new filly stars

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ARCADIA, Calif. - It is unreasonable to expect that 2010 will be a year for fillies and mares quite like 2009 was a year for fillies and mares. Only those who believe in avatars and fairytales would dare to hope for any kind of encore to the excitement generated by Rachel Alexandra, Goldikova, Vodka, Ventura, and Zenyatta.

Still, it can't hurt to try. Every star comes from somewhere. On Sunday at Santa Anita, there will be a jumble of screen tests for fillies who have just turned 3, 25 of them in all, spread over three races on the nine-race card.

The best of them, at least at this point, will gather in the $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. The event once was restricted to nonwinners of a stakes, and long ago it was even populated by older males. But in more recent times the Santa Ysabel (named for a little town in eastern San Diego County, best known as the home of a Spanish mission and the Julian Pie Factory) has become a pretty good indicator of future earnings, with such winners as Jeanne Jones, Gorgeous, Sharp Cat, Surfside, Sweet Catomine, and Baroness Thatcher going on to bigger things.

The day begins with five maidens from the crop of 2007 running for either the first or second time. This could turn out to be a key race, and they should be able to go seven furlongs by now, especially Elegant, a daughter of Maria's Mon who comes from the immediate female family of the half-brothers Charismatic and Millenium Wind. Bob Hess trains her.

Sunday's card wraps with a packed house of 13 maiden fillies, either bred in California or sired by a California stallion, entered to run six furlongs in one of those handicapping exercises attempted only by the brave. While Antares World has emerged as a filly of quality at Golden Gate Fields, the Southern California girls are without a headline name right now. If one of them would like to step up, along the lines of Moscow Burning or Nashoba's Key, the fairway is wide open.

A case can easily be made for the prospects of Evening Jewel, who will try to become the first two-time stakes winner of the young meet when she faces open company for the first time in the Santa Ysabel. Her opposition includes fillies from Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and one other Californian, so it's not like she's taking on the world. But she is doggedly consistent, with five races under her girth and Victor Espinoza back in the saddle.

Evening Jewel is a daughter of Northern Afleet - he gave us Afleet Alex - and won the fillies division of the California Breeders' Champion Stakes at a 1 1/16 miles on Dec. 27. The result failed to stop any presses, even though Evening Jewel did it with the same conviction she displayed in her three previous runs, which included a solid second to the promising colt Caracortado in an allowance event. Caracortado came right back to win the colt's division of the California Breeders Champion Stakes.

If nothing else, Evening Jewel has a family to die for. She is a granddaughter of Jeweled Lady, who was a full sister to General Challenge, winner of the Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita Handicap, and Pacific Classic, and a half-sister to Notable Career, winner of the Oak Leaf. If a lot of this sounds familiar, it should. They all come from the breeding empire developed by the late John Mabee and his wife, Betty. Larry Mabee, their son, is carrying on with a scaled-back operation.

Evening Jewel cost just $8,000 as a yearling and has topped $100,000 in earnings, racing for the Braley Family Trust. Jim Cassidy, her trainer, describes her as "very honest, very straightforward" and decided upon the Santa Ysabel when the next condition book came up without a suitable race.

"She's not really big, but she's strong, round, very typey," Cassidy said. "When I saw the breeding, I knew the Mabees always did such a good job, so that was key. Every once in a while you get one like this you can just train, and you don't have any issues."

For issues, Cassidy has been able to turn to his position for the past year as president of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, the officially sanctioned and funded representative organization. Unrest in the ranks, though, primarily over California's synthetic main-track surfaces, has prompted Cassidy to step down in a few weeks when his term ends.

"After that, the new elections will be in play," said Cassidy, who is not running for a position on the next CTT board of directors. "And it will be interesting to see who gets voted in. Then it will be interesting to see what they can get done."

In the meantime, Evening Jewel and the rest of the stable - including the accomplished turf horse The Usual Q.T - will be keeping Cassidy busy.

"It's a good spot on Sunday," Cassidy said. "Though we're giving away a little bit of weight, which I'm not thrilled with."

In the allowances, based on earnings, six of the seven Santa Ysabel runners carry 116 or 114 pounds, while Evening Jewel packs 122. That's a decent amount to spot over a distance of ground, and Cassidy has a right to be concerned. Asked, however, if he'd be willing to return the money that earned Evening Jewel that impost, Cassidy was brief and to the point.

"No," he said. "I would not."