03/10/2007 12:00AM

Trouble can't stop Balance


ARCADIA, Calif. – Balance is back, with a vengeance. The resolute 4-year-old filly overcame a compromising trip in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap on Saturday at Santa Anita, where she won the $300,000 race by a half-length and confirmed her status as one of the country’s top fillies or mares.

Trapped behind horses at the quarter pole while Ermine got first run, Balance ($3.60) swung to the outside, stuck her neck out in deep stretch, and collared Ermine late to win the 1 1/8-mile race in a respectable 1:49.25. Ermine finished 5 1/4 lengths clear of River Savage, who was third.

Though it is only March, Balance’s trainer David Hofmans and owner John Amerman said the goal for Balance is the Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Oct. 27 at Monmouth Park. Victor Espinoza rode Balance, who has won 6 of 11 including three Grade 1 races.

Hofmans said Balance would start only “three or four times” before the Breeders’ Cup, and possibly not until the Grade 1 Vanity on July 7 at Hollywood Park. Balance is due for a rest anyway, after three starts at the winter meet including a win in the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes. Runner-up Ermine will run April 7 in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park, trainer Ronny Werner said after the race.

After the first three in the Santa Margarita, the order of finish was Vanguara, Ready to Please, Les Ry Leigh, and Witch Woman.

* Hofmans also won the Grade 3 Baldwin Stakes for 3-year-olds early on the card. Desert Code ($3.60) won the 6 1/2-furlong turf sprint by 1 3/4 lengths over Bitter Bill. The same-day graded-stakes double was the second for Hofmans. On Aug. 3, 1997, Hofmans won the Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth Park with Touch Gold and the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga with Awesome Again.