05/24/2009 11:00PM

Ventura needs extra little push

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Patrick Lang/Lang Photography
Ventura (left) suffers a head loss to Informed Decision in the Madison at Keeneland on April 9.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - In the last year, the 5-year-old mare Ventura has repeatedly shown the ability to compete with males. What she has failed to do is finish her job.

Three times since July, racing against both sexes, she has lost major stakes in the final few strides after leading in deep stretch. That trend could put off bettors looking to back the millionaire mare in Monday's $250,000 Shoemaker Mile against males at Hollywood Park.

The Shoemaker is the featured event on a 10-race program that begins at 1 p.m. Pacific. The program offers a guaranteed pick-six pool of $300,000.

Ventura has earned $1,659,470, the most of the eight entrants in the Grade 1 Shoemaker, which is run on turf. The figure would be well over $2 million if she had not lost the Grade 2 CashCall Mile by a nose last July; the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile (against males) by a nose at Santa Anita in March; or the Grade 1 Madison Stakes by a head at Keeneland on April 9.

The narrow losses have not left trainer Bobby Frankel discouraged. "She tries hard," Frankel said. "She's just been outnodded."

Ventura is seeking her first win on turf since the Grade 1 Just a Game Stakes against females at Belmont Park last June. She was later a game second against males in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile on turf in Toronto last September.

Owned by breeder Juddmonte Farms, Ventura's best asset is her turn of foot. She has used that effectively on the main track, closing from the back of the field to win the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint last October and the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap in January. Those races were at seven furlongs at Santa Anita.

She also rallied in the Kilroe and the Madison, except she was caught late.

The Shoemaker field should provide Ventura with sufficient pace to follow. Stablemate Storm Military can lead, as can Thorn Song, the winner of the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland last fall and the only shipper in the field. Hyperbaric, who had a four-race winning streak interrupted by a dismal 14th-place finish in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free in the Middle East in March, will be near the front. Hyperbaric won the Grade 1 Citation Handicap here last November, leading throughout.

Storm Military, second by a head to Madeo in the Grade 3 Inglewood Handicap on April 26, is not in the field as a pacesetter for Ventura, Frankel insists.

"He's on his own," Frankel said.

Frankel and Richard Mandella account for half of the Shoemaker field. Mandella starts Dixie Chatter, the winner of the Grade 2 Arcadia Handicap at Santa Anita in April, and Tiz West, the winner of two stakes for 3-year-olds last year. Tiz West is winless in his last three starts.

U S Ranger is winless in three starts in this country, including a fifth in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita last fall and a third, by a neck, in the Inglewood. U S Ranger stalked a slow pace in that race, and was closing well.

"He should improve, but the competition is tough, too," trainer Neil Drysdale said. "There should be more pace. There was no pace the other day."

The Shoemaker could provide Whatsthescript with his first Grade 1 win. A 5-year-old horse trained by John Sadler, Whatsthescript won the Grade 2 American Handicap following a six-month layoff last July and later won the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile on turf.

Third in the BC Mile last October, Whatsthescript returns from a six-month break in the Shoemaker, his first start since a sixth-place finish in the Citation.

The layoff does not concern Sadler. "I'm confident in the job I've done and I know I've got a good horse," he said. "We think he's versatile. The reason he was so far back in the Breeders' Cup was because he had such a god-awful post. I see him tracking a little bit."

Of the competition, Sadler respects Ventura. "She's very good," he said. "For the fillies to beat the colts is not easy."

:: Illman: (DRF Plus)