12/22/2008 1:00AM

Vacare just a tick below elite

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Barbara D. Livingston
Vacare, the 122-pound topweight for the Grade 2 Dahlia, has won 3 of 4 starts at 1 1/16 miles on the grass.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - This has been an autumn of near misses for Vacare, the 5-year-old millionaire mare.

She was beaten three-quarters of a length when second to Wait a While in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Stakes in September and two lengths when fifth to Forever Together in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf in October.

Those losses will keep her off the ballot for the champion turf female of 2008. But they enhance her status in the $150,000 Dahlia Handicap on Sunday, closing day, at Hollywood Park.

Trained by Christophe Clement, Vacare is the 122-pound topweight for the Grade 2 Dahlia, run at 1 1/16 miles on turf. The distance is an ideal fit for Vacare. She has won 3 of 4 starts at 1 1/16 miles on the grass.

The last time she tried that distance she won the Grade 2 Palomar Handicap at Del Mar in September. The Dahlia will be the final start of her career.

"She's always been a top-class filly," Clement said. "She only has one more start and she will be retired."

By her standards, Vacare has been below par this year. At 3, she was unbeaten in four starts, highlighted by a victory in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland. At 4, she won 2 of 4 starts. This year, she has only one win in five starts.

In the BC Filly and Mare Turf, Vacare stalked the pace, rallied three wide on the final turn under jockey Jose Valdivia Jr., but could not make up any ground late.

"I thought she ran well," Clement said. "The jockey decided to go wide. If he'd stayed on the rail, she might have been third or fourth. She was beaten by better fillies."

Vacare has drawn the rail in the Dahlia, which has a field 12 fillies and mares. She will be favored, but there will be ample support for Valbenny, who is trained by Bobby Frankel. Owned by Lael Stables, Valbenny is winless in her last eight starts, but like Vacare she has kept good company. She was fifth in the Yellow Ribbon and fourth in the Grade 2 Las Palmas Handicap at Santa Anita on Oct. 24.

Gotta Have Her, fifth in the Las Palmas, has yet to win a graded stakes. Trained by Jenine Sahadi for Green Lantern Stables, Gotta Have Her was second to Vacare in the Palomar and was beaten 1 1/2 lengths in the Las Palmas after leading in early stretch. She broke from the outside in a field of 13 in the Las Palmas, which forced her to the front early to save ground.

Sahadi has employed New York-based jockey Richard Migliore for Sunday's race. Migliore was the regular rider of Gotta Have Her in 2007 and for most of this year before moving back to his native New York during the summer. Tyler Baze rode Gotta Have Her in the Palomar.

"I said, 'We might as well let them reunite,' " Sahadi said of the filly and Migliore. "She's kind of a funny horse to ride. She improved dramatically from 3 to 4. She used to show a lot of speed.

"I liked her the day of the Palomar and that was a troubled trip. I think she needs a little bit of luck."

The race includes three European imports - Belle Allure, Don't Forget Faith, and Place de L'Etoile.

Belle Allure has the best form of the three. An import from France, Belle Allure, 3, won a Group 3 race at Longchamp in April and was eighth in the French Oaks. She finished fourth in the Group 2 Prix Daniel Wildenstein at Longchamp on Oct. 4. The other two imports will be longshots.

Lady Digby, trained by Graham Motion, is capable of winning. A closer, Lady Digby won the Grade 3 All Along Breeders' Cup Stakes at Colonial Downs in June, but has lost her last two starts.