01/26/2007 12:00AM

Wait a While to offer an encore this year

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Wait a While proved to be no match for Ouija Board in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Churchill Downs - but who would have been? Ouija Board raced at her effortless best that day.

But while Ouija Board has been retired and is headed for a life as a broodmare, Wait a While is headed toward a 4-year-old campaign in 2007. And for female turf horses who made more than one U.S. start in 2006, Wait a While was one of the best. In fact, she was one of the best 3-year-old fillies on any surface, and on Monday she was honored with the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly.

Wait a While, a Maria's Mon filly bred by Will Farish and Temple Webber, is trained by Todd Pletcher. She did not officially become a turf horse until midway through the season, although Pletcher knew he had turf as an option. Wait a While raced once on grass at age 2, winning a maiden race at Belmont Park by five lengths.

Wait a While, purchased for $260,000 out of a Florida 2-year-olds in training sale in 2005, made her first start of 2006 in the Grade 2 Davona Dale, winning over a sloppy Gulfstream Park main track by 14 lengths.

She ran respectably in her next three starts - third in the Bonnie Miss, second in the Ashland, and fourth in the Kentucky Oaks. Pletcher finally entered her on turf in the Sands Point Stakes on June 3 at Belmont, but the race came off the grass because of rain, and Wait a While galloped to an easy win over just three rivals. Wait a While had already shown what she could do on the main track - now it was time for something new.

Pletcher put Wait a While on a plane from New York to California, where she raced July 2 in the Gradeo1 American Oaks on the grass at Hollywood. She wasn't favored in an eight-horse field, but she turned in a standout performance, beating the Japanese filly Asahi Rising by more than four lengths.

"We decided to go blindly into the American Oaks, but she showed that was her preferred surface," Pletcher said. "She did what we were hoping she'd do when we were finally able to put her back on the grass. Her American Oaks was sensational."

Six weeks later, Wait a While was back in New York for a Saratoga showdown with another highly regarded 3-year-old filly, Lady of Venice, in the Lake Placid Stakes. But the race turned into a one-horse affair in the stretch with Wait a While winning by almost five lengths. Then it was back west for one of California's most important turf races, the Yellow Ribbon Stakes, on Sept. 30 at the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita. Facing older horses for the first time, Wait a While dominated, winning by more than four as the odds-on favorite.

A powerfully built dappled gray filly, Wait a While found herself in a different game in the Breeders' Cup. Used to quick paces and fast-playing courses, she found herself in a slow-paced slog over deeper going. Held off the early pace, she tried to get involved at the top of the stretch but couldn't match the acceleration of Ouija Board, finishing a respectable fourth behind Ouija Board, Film Maker, and Honey Ryder.

The Breeders' Cup might have been a disappointment, but unlike some of the older mares in the race, Wait a While could trot out that reliable battle cry: Wait until next year.

* VOTING: Wait a While, 138; Pine Island, 108; Bushfire, 18; Ermine, 3; Lemons Forever, 1. Voter abstentions, 3.