01/15/2010 12:00AM

Wanted: One 3-year-old filly to step up


PHOENIX - Sunday's Grade 3 Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita is a chance for the mice to play while the cat's away.

In this case, it's a big cat in the name of Blind Luck, indisputable leader of the 3-year-old filly division out West. Her strong summer/fall form, including a third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and an overpowering win in the propelled her into a battle for the Eclipse Award as top 2-year-old filly of 2009 with Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner She Be Wild and Grade 1 winner Hot Dixie Chick.

Blind Luck is awaiting next month's Grade 1 Las Virgenes here for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. After her things get a little fuzzy in the division. In fact, they get a lot fuzzy.

Beautician, trained by Ken McPeek, seemed a legitimate challenger to Blind Luck after her fine second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, but she gave way badly in the Starlet, finishing last as if something went awry. She hasn't worked since, either. Another McPeek filly, Connie and Michael, would have been a contender in the 1 1/16-mile Santa Ysabel, but has been sidelined with a minor injury.

So there's a huge gap from Blind Luck back to the rest of the division out West and Sunday's race gives someone a chance to separate themselves from the pack and possibly position herself to make a run at Blind Luck.

Zilva figures to be a slight favorite for trainer Graham Motion. After all, she's shown she can be competitive at the Grade 1 level. She rallied for fourth, beaten 2 3/4 lengths in Keeneland's Alcibiades Oct. 9, and then was far from disgraced when seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, beaten just 2 1/2 lengths. Can anyone else in here get that close to the likes of She Be Wild and Blind Luck?

But Evening Jewel represents a viable option to the favorite. The daughter of Northern Afleet has been strong at Santa Anita, with two wins and a second. She was also second against males in a Hollywood Park sprint Dec. 6. The boy who beat her, Caracortado, came back to win again to remain unbeaten.

Evening Jewel moved to a route for the first time in the 1 1/16-mile California Breeders' Champion Stakes here Dec. 27 and won. Yes, those were California-breds and these are open foes. But she won't have to be Rachel Alexandra to beat these and being a winner on this track at this distance is nothing to sneeze at.

Great expectations

Every turn of the calendar brings with it some expectations. In 2010 I expect:

* Rachel Alexandra to be named Horse of the Year for 2009. She's most deserving, as is Zenyatta. I voted for Zenyatta but I will be more than okay with such a result.

* Bob Baffert to reaffirm his foothold in the game's premier division, the 3-year-olds. Last year his best 3-year-old was Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile. This year his barn is bursting at the seams with talent, even after the death of Clutch Player. Lookin at Lucky, the likely 2-year-old champion of 2009, and a host of others including Conveyance, Tiz Chrome and Taking Risks give him a strong hand.

* Steve Asmussen to look a lot like John Shirreffs did in 2009. Last year Shirreffs trained the two best runners in the older female division in Zenyatta and Life Is Sweet. This year we could see Asmussen with a formidable hand. Obviously his ace is Rachel, but you take his emerging War Echo lightly at your own peril. It wouldn't be a shock to see Asmussen emulate Shirreffs and have one big girl targeting the BC Ladies' Classic and the bigger girl eyeing the Classic.

* That "turf" horses such as Lentenor and Interactif can emerge as Derby contenders. Lentenor is a full brother to Barbaro, and we all know what he did on dirt. Interactif has sparkled on turf but won his maiden on dirt in his debut at Monmouth and is by Broken Vow, primarily a dirt sire, with top-class dirt stayer and dirt-staying influence Broad Brush as his damsire. His third dam is the immortal Personal Ensign.

* There will be no small amount of revelry among those who relish the thought of the Breeders' Cup being back on the dirt at Churchill Downs after two years of racing on synthetic footing at Santa Anita - but many of these same folks will be whining and carrying-on after the Cup that their horse did not handle the churchill dirt surface. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the trainer of Blind Luck. It is Jerrry Hollendorfer, not John Sadler.