07/12/2008 11:00PM

Unbridled Belle faces Hystericalady

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Unbridled Belle and Hystericalady will meet as the two prime contenders in Sunday's $1 million Delaware Handicap, the premiere race of the Delaware Park season.

Unbridled Belle will be trying to become the first horse in nearly 20 years to win back-to-back runnings of the Delaware Handicap. The California shipper Hystericalady is out to make amends for flopping as a heavy favorite in the Delaware Oaks three years ago.

The Grade 2, 1 1/4-mile Del Cap for fillies and mares highlights a 12-race card that includes three other stakes, including the Grade 3, $300,000 Barbaro for 3-year-olds. The Del Cap and the Barbaro will be shown on an ESPN2 telecast from 5 to 6 p.m. Eastern.

For the first time, the 71st Delaware Handicap is also a Win and You're In Breeders' Cup Challenge race, with the winner guaranteed a spot in the BC Ladies' Classic (formerly Distaff) at Santa Anita on Oct. 24.

Not since Nastique became the fifth repeat winner and sixth two-time winner of the Delaware Handicap in 1989 has any filly or mare duplicated that feat. Of course, only two have tried.

Summer Colony, the 2002 winner, finished sixth in 2003. Tap to Music was second, a length behind Lu Ravi, a year after winning the 1999 running.

There's little logical reason to believe Unbridled Belle can't repeat. She dominated last year's race by 7 3/4 lengths and went on to finish second in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga and win the Grade 1 Beldame at Belmont Park before enduring a troubled trip over a sloppy track in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Monmouth Park.

In her return from a 7 1/2-month layoff, Unbridled Belle whipped six rivals in the local prep for the Del Cap, the Grade 3 Obeah, improving her record at Delaware to 4 for 5.

"She obviously ran very well first start back," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who also won the 2006 Del Cap with Fleet Indian and the 2001 running with Irving's Baby. No trainer has ever won the race three straight times.

"I'm very pleased with the way she's trained since then," Pletcher added. "She was very good last year. She seems like she's come back just as well or even better this year.''

Hystericalady, based in California with trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, comes into the Del Cap off a 7 1/2-length romp in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs. That's the same margin of victory she recorded winning the Hollywood Oaks as a 3-year-old, the race that preceded her previous trip to Delaware Park for the Delaware Oaks. Sent off as the 4-5 favorite in the 2006 race, Hystericalady went out fast under jockey Patrick Valenzuela and faded to fifth.

Hollendorfer is cautiously optimistic she will fare better now in her first attempt at 1 1/4 miles in her 19-race career.

"When you ship, there is always a concern because lots of things could happen," Hollendorfer said. "But she ships well and she has done this before many times, so I am not really worried about that. She has never been a mile and a quarter, so you never know, but I am confident she can get the distance."

Others in the field of 11 who merit respect include the Bobby Frankel-trained Spring Waltz, the winner of four straight, including the Grade 2 Rampart Handicap at Gulfstream in her stakes debut; Moon Catcher, who won last year's Delaware Oaks; Grade 2 winner Buy the Barrel, whose trainer, Larry Jones, won the 2005 Del Cap with Island Sand; and Santa Teresita, who makes her first start on dirt following back-to-back placings in graded stakes run over Cushion Track at Hollywood Park.

- additional reporting by David Grening