12/05/2003 12:00AM

Time to shed one-race wonder label


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - It was over before you knew it, like an old Mike Tyson fight, except without the biting.

Fans attending the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita on Oct. 25 still were making their way through security checks and trying to find their seats when Adoration stepped into the ring, shucked off her robe, and touched gloves with an intimidating bunch that included Sightseek, Got Koko, Elloluv, and Take Charge Lady. Less than two minutes later, they were scattered on the canvas, with only Adoration standing tall as the runaway winner of the $1 million Distaff.

Her odds said 40-1. The clock read 10:23 a.m.

Chances are, no Thoroughbred has ever accomplished quite so much so early in the day. Some cattle drives get a later start. It might have been well into the afternoon back East, but in Los Angeles it was barely time to begin thinking about a West Side brunch.

Because of the early running, the shocking odds, and the excitement of the seven other Breeders' Cup races that followed, Adoration's Distaff shocker is in jeopardy of remaining one of those hazy memories that comes up in the context of bar bets and Racetrack Trivial Pursuit.

What was the name of the horse who won the earliest Breeders' Cup race ever run?

It does not have to be that way. Adoration's historical fate is in her own hands. She could go down in the books as a one-trick pony - enjoying the 1:49.17 of fame it took her to win the Distaff - or she could use the Breeders' Cup as a launch point for the second phase of a promising career.

On Sunday, at Hollywood Park, Adoration will show up for the $150,000 Bayakoa Handicap, fully exposed as the filly who turned the 2003 Breeders' Cup Distaff upside down. Her trainer, David Hofmans, is anxious for the race, hoping as he is to shake the idea that the Distaff was a paceless fluke.

"She has something to prove, of course," Hofmans said this week. "After all, she was 40-1, and she wasn't supposed to win. But we tipped our mitt. I worked her a half in 46 going into the race, but nobody was watching."

Big mistake, but understandable. Compared to the Frankel and Baffert juggernauts, Hofmans runs a boutique barn. His annual draft of 2-year-old prospects can be counted on one hand, rather than by the dozens. In 2001, Adoration was one of them.

The Distaff champion was purchased by longtime Hofmans clients Steve Bajer and John O'Hara for $40,000 out of the 2000 Keeneland September yearling sale. Shortly after Adoration won her maiden by eight lengths, in February 2002, she was purchased privately by John and Jerry Amerman.

"Right after the Distaff, I called the guys who originally bought her and told them I thought they left a little money on the table," Hofmans said with a laugh. "They loved it, because that's the business they're in. They want their horses to go on and do well."

Certainly, Hofmans does not need to explain away the Distaff upset from his own point of view. His credentials give him every right to win a Breeders' Cup race or a Triple Crown classic whenever the ammunition is there.

It was Hofmans who upset Cigar in the 1996 Breeders' Cup Classic at Woodbine with the tenacious gray, Alphabet Soup. Hofmans prepared his horse for the big event with a clockwork series of preps at seven, eight, and nine furlongs, much as he did Adoration with races at eight and 8 1/2 furlongs leading up to the Distaff.

Then, the following spring, Hofmans's handling of Touch Gold during the Triple Crown campaign remains a textbook case of improvisation under fire.

After winning the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, Touch Gold was allowed to pass the Derby by owner Frank Stronach in order to point for the Preakness. Hofmans took a sound, fit, and fresh colt to Pimlico, only to watch Touch Gold stumble badly at the break, rip up his hoof, and still finish a noble fourth. Three weeks and many hours of nerve-wracking patchwork later, Hofmans and Touch Gold beat Bob Baffert and Silver Charm in the Belmont Stakes.

Hofmans trained Starrer to win the 2001 version of the Bayakoa, a race named for the only two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Distaff. At 1 1/16 miles, the Bayakoa does not figure to be much of a reach for Adoration. She carries high weight of 121 pounds (a two-pound drop from the Distaff) and faces nothing that remotely resembles a Breeders' Cup horse. It also will be run about six hours later than the Distaff.

Once safely past the Bayakoa, Adoration will be faced once again with the likes of Got Koko, Elloluv, and perhaps even Sightseek during 2004, with the ultimate goal a defense of her Distaff title at Lone Star Park.

"You know, it wasn't like she was a 40-1 longshot in the Breeders' Cup and just hung on to win," Hofmans noted. "She was pulling away at the end. She's still got some room to improve, but I don't think she's got to go too far forward to be right with those others, and turn out to be one of the top mares around."