06/26/2005 11:00PM

Two on a collision course

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Like all great performers, Megahertz left her audience longing for more after her light-hearted victory in the 1 1/4-mile Beverly Hills Handicap last Saturday afternoon.

If she broke a sweat, no one noticed, despite the fact that Alex Solis turned in Oscar-winning work to make it look as if Megahertz was sorely tested to beat Winendyneme, a proven miler, by just three-quarters of a length.

In fact, Megahertz was barely entertained. She did get a kick out of splitting horses in the upper stretch, something she rarely gets to do. This gave her a chance to flick her little red ears "bye-bye" to horses both on her left and her right. Then, just for yucks, she tossed in a graceful flying lead change with a sixteenth of a mile to run and finished the race on the wrong leg, which is pretty much what the fastest kid on the block used to do when he mocked the rest of us by running backwards and beating us anyway. God, I hated that kid.

Megahertz bounced back to the winner's circle and was greeted by a smattering of applause, though nowhere near the robust round of cheering that accompanied her appearances this winter at Santa Anita. Blame it on the size of the crowd - announced as 8,148 - and the fact that the Beverly Hills was placed on an orphaned Saturday card that fell outside Hollywood Park's two heavily advertised programs coming up the next two weekends. Megahertz deserves a bigger stage, which she should get in her next race - either the John C. Mabee at Del Mar or the Beverly D. at Arlington Park.

In the meantime, Hollywood Park will be pulling out the promotional stops this Sunday, offering five stakes, led by the $750,000 American Oaks, and then the following Saturday, July 9, when the Hollywood Gold Cup tops a three-stakes card.

Compared to the Gold Cup, first run in 1938 and won by Seabiscuit, the Oaks is still in diapers. Even so, it already has become a polished gem. Megahertz, no less, won the raucous first running in 2002 on the disqualification of Dublino. Dimitrova came from Ireland to take the second Oaks in 2003, and last year's winner was Ticker Tape, who went on to win the Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Keeneland in the fall to take two of America's four Grade 1 grass races for 3-year-old fillies. In her final race of the year, Ticker Tape was a close third to older mares in the Matriarch.

Such achievements made Ticker Tape highly marketable. Her partnership of owners had her sold early this year to Kentucky interests, but that fell through. They sold her for keeps in late January to the Forging Oaks Farm of James Peyton and his wife, Gail.

Peyton is an Arizona native whose 150-acre farm is named for his steel forging business. His first love was Quarter Horses, but when his work took him to Kentucky, he became smitten by the Thoroughbred world. Forging Oaks was established as a commercial operation six years ago.

When her racing days are done, Ticker Tape will take her place in the Peyton broodmare band. But first, there's work to be done on the track. After a dry run on Kentucky Derby Day in a mile stakes on the Churchill Downs turf, Ticker Tape returns to California action for the Peytons on Sunday in the $200,000 Royal Heroine Stakes on the American Oaks undercard.

"She wasn't ready to run and shouldn't have been in a race," Peyton said, referring to Ticker Tape's loss at Churchill Downs. "All you can do is hope she got pissed off and run her again, but I think you're going to see a great improvement."

Peyton knows his filly already. From the beginning of her American experience, in the fall of 2003, Ticker Tape has displayed a mind of her own. She has lost close ones she might have won (like the Senorita and the Del Mar Oaks), and won tough photos that lesser mares would have lost, like the Queen Elizabeth, in which she held off Barancella in a ding-dong duel through the final furlong.

"That's when she hit our radar screen," Peyton said of the Keeneland race. "After that we kind of kept our eye on her and bought her when she came up for sale."

Peyton retained Jim Cassidy to train Ticker Tape after their successful collaboration last year. Unfortunately, her training program was interrupted because of the extended sales process, after which she spent time at the El Paso training center run by Keith and Cash Asmussen. The filly has been back in California since the second week in May.

"She was gone about three months from me, and it was about six months all told that she really didn't do very much," Cassidy said. "That six months is a bear. She didn't lose that much muscle tone, but she got big as a cow. The trick has been to get her fit again while keeping her sound, and so far she's been doing everything I've asked her to do."

On Sunday, Ticker Tape will be asked to handle a field that could include such proven runners as Matriarch winner Intercontinental; Gamely Handicap winner Mea Domina; and Valentine Dancer, the two-time winner of the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf. Beyond the Royal Heroine, Ticker Tape's itinerary could include the Beverly D. Stakes, which means a possible American Oaks class reunion with Megahertz.