08/26/2004 12:00AM

Souvenir Gift inherits role of favorite

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Benoit & Associates
Souvenir Gift will be taken off the pace in the Debutante.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Souvenir Gift is the survivor in California's 2-year-old filly division.

Since June 1, Souvenir Gift has started in all three of the open stakes in the division. She will try for her third stakes win in Saturday's $250,000 .

Inspiring, who beat Souvenir Gift in the Sorrento Stakes Aug. 7, is out of training with tender shins. Her absence makes Souvenir Gift the favorite in the Grade 1 Debutante, run over seven furlongs.

The Debutante will be the longest test yet for Souvenir Gift. At Hollywood Park, she won the Cinderella Stakes over 5 1/2 furlongs and the Landaluce Stakes over six furlongs.

In the Debutante, trainer Sam Semkin has switched riders, replacing Mike Smith with Tyler Baze. In addition, Semkin will instruct Baze to bring Souvenir Gift from off the pace.

When Souvenir Gift battled for the lead with Inspiring in the Sorrento, she faded in the final furlong and finished 2 1/2 lengths behind that superior rival.

A stalking strategy worked for Souvenir Gift in the Grade 3 Landaluce Stakes on July 5, when Souvenir Gift rallied from third in the final furlong to win by 1 1/2 lengths over runner-up Bella Banissa.

"We took her out of her element last time [in the Sorrento]," Semkin said. "It's not so much getting beat. If the final goal is the Breeders' Cup, it's a step back. that's not how she needs to run to get a route of ground."

The Debutante drew nine entrants. Souvenir Gift is the only stakes winner in the field. Other top contenders include Hello Lucky, who was third in the Sorrento; the impressive maiden winners No Bull Baby and She's Salty; and Proposed, a stakes-placed maiden.

Hello Lucky made her California debut in the Sorrento, having been acquired privately in Florida by Charlie Cono in July.

In the Sorrento, over 6 1/2 furlongs, Hello Lucky was third throughout and finished five lengths behind Inspiring.

"She'll surprise me if she's not near the lead," trainer Christopher Paasch said.

Trainer Bob Baffert considered starting the California-bred Excessively Nice, but has pointed her for the Generous Portion Stakes for statebreds on Wednesday. Instead, Baffert is starting No Bull Baby, who won her debut against maidens by 2 1/2 lengths over 5 1/2 furlongs on Aug. 15.

"She always showed a lot of talent," Baffert said. "Why not run her? We expected her to win first time out. She wasn't really cranked up for that race."

She's Salty will be part of the pace. Trained by Doug O'Neill, She's Salty led throughout a maiden race over 5 1/2 furlongs on July 31, winning by five lengths.

Proposed made her career debut in the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association Stakes, finishing third. Proposed did not have an ideal trip. She was on the rail on the turn and in tight quarters in early stretch before finishing well.

"She's training super," trainer Julio Canani said. "She's very healthy and looks great. What I like is that she has a good mind."

A full-sister to 2004 Santa Anita Oaks winner Silent Sighs, Proposed is trying to become the first maiden to win the Debutante since Cindy's Hero in 2000.