04/17/2008 12:00AM

Sixty Sails is Tessa Blue's race to lose


STICKNEY, Ill. - Several times already, trainer Frank Brothers has poked fun at himself for failing to turn Tessa Blue into a route horse earlier in her career, since once Tessa Blue stretched out to route races in 2007, she became a different horse. But a mild distance question still hangs over Tessa Blue: Can she race as effectively at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Sixty Sails Handicap on Saturday at Hawthorne as she has at 1 1/16 miles?

Tessa Blue was one of eight fillies and mares entered in the Sixty Sails, a Grade 3 fixture with a $200,000 purse. The eighth race on Hawthorne's program, the Sixty Sails shares top billing Saturday with the Grade 3 Bill Hartack Memorial Handicap, which drew a field of only five. Competition in the female race runs deeper, with Golden Velvet, Unforgotten, and even Cryptoquip potential upsetters of likely favorite Tessa Blue.

Still, the fact remains that any horse can handle any distance given the right circumstances. Put a Quarter Horse in at 1 1/4 miles against a hippopotamus and the Quarter Horse will "get" the classic distance. Tessa Blue may be 0 for 2 at 1o1/8 miles, but she didn't run her race when she finished fourth last Nov. 22 in the Falls City Handicap, and her second-place finish March 9 in the 1 1/8-mile Rampart Handicap at Gulfstream - Tessa Blue's 2008 debut - was a good comeback effort. In the Sixty Sails, she is favorably drawn in post 7 under Mike Smith, and should get a fine trip as a free-running filly in a relatively paceless race.

Golden Velvet finished third behind Tessa Blue at Gulfstream, and is the probable second choice. But Golden Velvet may be even more questionable at 1 1/8 miles than Tessa Blue, who is by Hawthorne Gold Cup winner Awesome Again.

"I think she's better at a mile, but I think she can handle a mile and an eighth," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who is eyeing one-turn middle-distance races in New York for Golden Velvet. Golden Velvet figures to be positioned in the flight of horses just behind Tessa Blue, hoping that the favorite comes back.

"You don't duck just one horse, and on paper it looked like that kind of race," McLaughlin said.

The Dallas Stewart-trained Unforgotten made short work of the $97,000 Goddess Stakes March 21 at Delta Downs, and only recently has switched to route racing from sprints.

The race's real 1 1/8-mile horse, Cryptoquip, is on a four-race losing streak, and beat Ohio-breds in her most recent win, but trainer Graham Motion is a regular winner in graded stakes, and Cryptoquip should not be disregarded.