08/29/2008 12:00AM

Vacare gets cozy out West

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Losses in two Grade 1 races in New York earlier this spring and summer represent the low point of Vacare's otherwise outstanding career. Perhaps a change of scenery to California is all Vacare needs to win her fifth stakes race.

Vacare will be favored in Saturday's $200,000 Palomar Handicap at Del Mar, seeking her first stakes win since the Grade 2 First Lady Stakes at Keeneland last fall. Earlier this year, she finished eighth in the Just a Game Stakes at Belmont Park and fourth in the Diana at Saratoga.

Since arriving at Del Mar earlier this month, she has given hints that she has taken to her surroundings.

"I think she's done well since she's been here," said Nicholas Bachalard, assistant trainer for Christophe Clement. "She had an easy breeze, and normally she doesn't need too much. She's put on weight."

Vacare is the 119-pound topweight in the Grade 2 Palomar, which is run over 1 1/16 miles on turf. Vacare has won 6 of 10 starts and $870,456. Through her career, she has displayed a patient style of stalking the pace. Such a style led to a victory in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland in October 2006 in her fourth start.

Vacare is the only Grade 1 winner in the Palomar, but there are several other stakes winners in the field. Zardana scored a 43-1 upset in the restricted Osunitas Handicap here on July 19. Gotta Have Her, the winner of the Ramser Handicap at Santa Anita last October, is well-suited to the Palomar distance. America's Friend, who won the Solana Beach Handicap for statebred females on Aug. 17, is seeking her third consecutive win.

Zardana was a stakes winner in her native Brazil, but needed five races to win in this country. In the Osunitas, she broke from the rail and rallied from third to win by a half-length.

"Hopefully, we can take the next step up," trainer Ron McAnally said. "Hopefully, she'll turn out to be what we thought she'd be when we brought her up here. She was 3 for 3 down there and looked good doing it."

The Palomar is the third consecutive race in which Zardana has drawn the rail. She may stalk expected pacesetters Forest Melody and Moujane through the first half of the race, though McAnally has not committed to that strategy.

Said McAnally, "It depends on how the race shapes up."