02/09/2006 12:00AM

A stellar cast in Las Virgenes

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Wild Fit, making her first start since finishing second in the BC Juvenile Fillies, needs a race in the Las Virgenes, trainer Patrick Biancone said.

ARCADIA, Calif. - In an era when Grade 1 races can sometimes fail to live up to their status because of shallow fields, Saturday's Grade 1, $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita is deserving of its stature.

The Las Virgenes has drawn the winners of four major stakes on this circuit in the last three months: , the winner of the Sharp Cat in November; Diplomat Lady, the upset winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet in December; Itty Bitty Pretty, who won the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel in January; and Dance Daily, who won the Grade 2 Santa Ynez here in January.

Also in the field is , the winner of the Del Mar Debutante last August and the runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Belmont Park last October.

The field is so strong that the absence of champion 2-year-old filly Folklore, who is being prepared for the Santa Anita Oaks on March 12, has not impacted the race's quality.

One trainer argues it is the best group of fillies in the nation.

"I think the Kentucky Oaks winner comes through California this year," said Christopher Paasch, who starts Diplomat Lady.

Paasch said he is hoping Diplomat Lady will prove that theory, though it will not be easy.

While Wild Fit is returning from a layoff and in need of a start, other fillies such as may pose a threat to Diplomat Lady in the one-mile Las Virgenes.

In a sense, has something to prove in the Las Virgenes. She was the front-running winner of the Starlet at 1 1/16 miles, her first stakes win, but was sent off at 39-1.

"I guess a lot of people are thinking it was a fluke," Paasch said. "I think she's the real deal."

Paasch also said Diplomat Lady isn't reliant on having the lead. "She will do either," he said. "She broke her maiden coming from last, even though that was over 4 1/2 furlongs."

Wild Fit is making her first start for John Magnier, Derrick Smith, and Michael Tabor, who purchased her for $3 million at a sale in November.

Trainer Patrick Biancone, who takes over from Jeff Mullins, is taking a cautious approach to Wild Fit's chances. She has worked steadily since the start of the year, but is in need of a race, Biancone said.

"I want to see her run back good and get her back in the pack," he said. "It's a tough race, but there are two or three fillies that have been racing. If she wins, she will win on her class."

The Las Virgenes distance may be too short for Balance, trainer David Hofmans said. In recent weeks, Hofmans has spoken glowingly about Balance, who has been working quickly. She ended her 3-year-old campaign with a 1 3/4-length victory in the Sharp Cat and a game second to Diplomat Lady in the Starlet.

"I want to see her finishing the race so that we can move farther later on," Hofmans said. "I don't think the distance is ideal. We want to run longer."

Hofmans said the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks is Balance's main goal of the meeting.

The credentials of those fillies overshadow the six-length win by Itty Bitty Pretty in the Santa Ysabel. Itty Bitty Pretty will be ridden by Patrick Valenzuela.

"Having P. Val on her, she'll be getting some looks by people," said trainer Doug O'Neill. "She's coming into it well."

Dance Daily has already pulled one upset at this meeting, and a win in the Las Virgenes would be a surprise.

Dance Daily was coupled with Folklore in the Santa Ynez Stakes, but would have been a longshot had they not been paired in the betting. Owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis and trained by D. Wayne Lukas, Dance Daily had won 2 of 8 starts before the Santa Ynez, but had been winless in five stakes.

In the seven-furlong Santa Ynez, she finished a nose in front of Talullah Lula, another starter in the Las Virgenes.

The field

Las Virgenes
Purse: $250,000; 1 mile; Grade 1

PPHORSEJOCKEYWT.ODDS
1MeetmeinthewoodsC. Nakatani1166-1
2Lake ComoI. Enriquez11615-1
3Diplomat LadyT. Baze1209-2
4BalanceV. Espinoza1203-1
5Talullah LulaG. Gomez11610-1
6Itty Bitty PrettyP. Valenzuela1208-1
7Dance DailyJ. Santiago1206-1
8Wild FitA. Solis1205-2

* Odds by Michael Hammersly