08/15/2007 11:00PM

Valbenny faces tough task

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DEL MAR, Calif. - The good fortune that has helped Valbenny to win four stakes in the last year ran out in the $750,000 American Oaks at Hollywood Park last month.

Valbenny comes from off the pace and often finds a way around horses to reach the front. The strategy failed in the Grade 1 American Oaks when she settled for second, losing by three-quarters of a length to Panty Raid.

Trainer Paddy Gallagher said that Valbenny "had to wait a little bit down the backside."

Valbenny lacks a Grade 1 victory, which she can achieve as the expected favorite in Saturday's $400,000 Del Mar Oaks at Del Mar. Winning will not be easy. Despite her outstanding record, which includes victories in the Grade 3 Senorita Stakes and Grade 2 Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap this year, Valbenny faces four other graded stakes winners and three fillies that have placed in graded stakes.

The Del Mar Oaks is at 1 1/8 miles on turf, and should be run at a true pace. Not that Valbenny will be part of the pace. She is typically two or three lengths off the front early.

"I think a mile and an eighth is a good distance," Gallagher said. "She seems to have stayed in good form all the way along."

The leaders may be Fleet Caroline, second to Passified in the Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap on July 28, and Forest Melody, a maiden race winner on turf on Aug. 1. Super Freaky, fifth as the 6-5 favorite in the San Clemente, will be near the front, along with Passified, who began July with a win in the one-mile Flawlessly at Hollywood Park.

Rutherienne and Supposition are drawn wide but have excellent chances. Rutherienne has won 6 of 7 starts, counting three consecutive Grade 3 stakes in New York and New Jersey.

Supposition, third in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes in Ireland last August, was a troubled seventh in her U.S. debut, the American Oaks. Her saddle slipped during the race, causing problems for jockey Rafael Bejarano.

After the race, Bejarano apologized to trainer Bobby Frankel, but Frankel did not blame the jockey. Frankel just smiled said said, "Don't worry. She'll be all right."

With Bejarano riding at Saratoga this weekend, Ramon Dominguez will ride Supposition in the Del Mar Oaks.