10/24/2008 12:00AM

Wait a While has home-course advantage


ARCADIA, Calif. - One thing has been constant through the brilliant career of the 5-year-old mare Wait a While. Many of the finest performances of her career have come on firm turf courses in Southern California.

In five starts at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park, Wait a While has won four graded stakes. The experience will be vital when she starts as the likely favorite in Friday's $2 million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita.

Owned by Arindel Farm and trained by Todd Pletcher, Wait a While won the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Stakes over 1 1/4 miles on turf here on Sept. 27 over the same course and distance as the BC Filly and Mare Turf. She won the 2006 Yellow Ribbon in a season that ended with her being named champion 3-year-old filly.

"We know she loves this course," Pletcher said. "I feel like it's a home-field advantage for a filly that is from an East Coast stable. She's found a second home here."

Wait a While can clinch the Eclipse Award as the outstanding turf female of 2008 with a win in the Filly and Mare Turf. Several others can claim the same title if they win on Friday.

The race has drawn 10 fillies and mares and features seven Group 1 or Grade 1 winners from 2008 - Dynaforce, Folk Opera, Forever Together, Halfway to Heaven, Mauralakana, Pure Clan, and Wait a While - the 2008 graded stakes winners Vacare and Visit, and Sealy Hill, who was the 2007 Canadian Horse of the Year.

Of those, only Wait a While has earned $2 million and won 11 stakes in her career. Only Mauralakana has won that many races, of any kind.

Pletcher's confidence in Wait a While wavered briefly this summer when she finished seventh behind Forever Together in the Grade 1 Diana at Saratoga in July. He was relieved to see Wait a While record a smart one-length win in the Ballston Spa Handicap at Saratoga a month later.

"I thought she was as good coming up to that race as she's been, and she proved me right," Pletcher said.

With Dynaforce, Folk Opera, and Halfway to Heaven in the field, the BC Filly and Mare Turf should have an honest pace. Halfway to Heaven has won three Group 1 races this year - the Irish 1000 Guineas, Nassau Stakes, and Sun Chariot Stakes. She represents Europe's best hope.

Wait a While will not be far behind the leaders. In the Yellow Ribbon last month, Wait a While, ridden by John Velazquez, engaged the front-runners on the final turn, led by 1 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole, and won by three-quarters of a length over Vacare.

"Johnny felt she idled a bit and there was more there," Pletcher said.

Trainer Christophe Clement had a different perspective. The trainer of Vacare, he was encouraged by the way his 5-year-old mare finished. "She was closing on Wait a While at the end," he said. "It was a good try."

Clement also trains Mauralakana, who has won 5 of 7 starts this year. She won her fourth consecutive stakes in the Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park on Aug. 9 but followed that with a second to Dynaforce in the Flower Bowl Invitational over a yielding turf course at Belmont Park on Sept. 27.

"I think she's much better on firm," Clement said. "She has a better turn of foot on firm turf."

The race may become a sprint through the final three furlongs. If so, Forever Together could be ideally suited. While she is starting over 1 1/4 miles and in California for the first time, Forever Together has won on three turf courses this year. She unleashed remarkable rallies to win the Diana and the First Lady Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 3.

"It's a pretty devastating turf of foot," said her trainer Jonathan Sheppard "We're kind of going into uncharted water and a racetrack we don't know whether she'll adapt to or not."