06/08/2006 11:00PM

Squallacious reaching for Oaks

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - It has been 13 years since an Eclipse Award winning 3-year-old filly bothered to include the Hollywood Oaks among her championship past performances, and 21 years since the winner of the Kentucky Oaks took the Hollywood version as well.

This is not to say there haven't been some nice fillies to come along out West since Hollywood Wildcat, in 1993, or Fran's Valentine, in 1985. Adoration did not get a lot of ink for winning 2002 Hollywood Oaks, but that changed after she won the Breeders' Cup Distaff 18 months later. In 2001, Affirmed's daughter Affluent added her name to the exclusive list of fillies who won the Hollywood Oaks on dirt and later the Del Mar Oaks on turf (Sandy Blue, Hidden Light and champions Heartlight No. One and Turkish Trousers are the others). And then there were Hollywood Oaks winners Manistique (1998), Sharp Cat (1997), Lakeway (1994), and Gorgeous (1988), who ended up winning a total of 29 major stakes among them.

It is also difficult to dismiss a race that began with a victory by California superstar Honeymoon in 1946, and counts A Gleam, Miz Clementine, and Straight Deal among its bygone winners.

These days, though, the Hollywood Oaks is little more than a minor stop on a major circuit, clinging desperately to its Grade 2 designation. In 2002 it was sliced from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/16 miles, sending a terrible message to the keepers of the breed. For the 2006 running on Sunday, the purse provided by the track is only $100,000, plus $50,000 from its Breeders' Cup fund of stakes money.

This gives the Oaks a $150,000 purse (the minimum for Grade 2 races) on a dubious technicality, since only Breeders' Cup-eligible fillies can share in the split of that $50,000. It also requires the race to be called the "Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks" (apostrophe and all), as if a third of the funding gets you half of the name. Not here.

One of those eligible for the full pot is Squallacious, who at an inexperienced but noteworthy 2 for 2 fits the profile of many recent Hollywood Oaks hopefuls. The most accomplished filly among the likely opposition on Sunday is recent Railbird Stakes winner Bettarun Fast, although She's an Eleven looked pretty good winning the restricted Melair.

Squallacious is a daughter of Preakness winner Summer Squall, out of the Strolling Along mare Saunter, whose dam is a half sister to 1997 champion older mare Hidden Lake, winner of the Beldame and the Go for Wand. Those are 1 1/8-mile races, which could be helpful, since Squallacious has yet to run beyond seven furlongs.

She was bred and owned by Rick Trontz, a transplanted Californian who has found his niche in the heart of Kentucky's bluegrass country. His 585-acre Hopewell Farm is in Woodford County, and home to such stallions as Royal Anthem, Crafty Friend, David Copperfield, and 1998 Horse of the Year Skip Away.

"She was a nice filly who moved well, and had nice presence about her," Trontz said of Squallacious. "She went through the auction, but she really wasn't quite mature at the time, wasn't perfect. But I really liked her. When no one really bid on her I bought her back."

The date was Sept. 21, 2004, at the Keeneland select sale. The buy-back figure was $27,000.

"She needed some time to mature, so we broke her here, turned her out for a little while, then sent her to a guy in California named Sergio Gonzalez, who has a place somewhere near I-15," Trontz added. "He got her ready for the track and sent her to Mike Puype."

Puype's best runners have included Old Trieste, Lord Grillo, and Cobra King for owner Gary Biszantz. The trainer finally unwrapped Squallacious on April 29 for a maiden win, then produced her again on May 31 for a solid score at seven furlongs, while heavily bet both times.

"She's coming back a little soon," Trontz said, citing the 11-day turnaround. "But she seemed to come out of that last race like it didn't take too much out of her. We'll find out, and we also need to find out if she can go the distance."

As a half sister to the quick stakes winner More Smoke, Squallacious already has a decent value established for her bloodlines alone. Trontz, whose full-service Bluegrass Bloodstock Agency is known for moving the merchandise and advising its clients to keep pace with the market, would seem to be taking an uncharacteristic gamble by not aggressively marketing Squallacious before now.

"I'm taking a shot, I know," Trontz said. "Really rolling the dice. But I've already hung on to her for a little bit, and I wanted to see her run another time or two. In this case, it's a matter of do as I say, not as I do.

"I've heard a consultant defined as a guy who knows how to make love a hundred different ways but never had a girlfriend," Trontz added. "When it comes to Thoroughbreds, I figure before you give advice it helps to know what it's like to own these things."

With a couple breaks, by sundown Sunday he just might own an Oaks winner.