06/29/2005 12:00AM

Whimsy must clear big hurdle


ALTOONA, Iowa - Whimsy could go from being an unraced maiden to a graded stakes winner in slightly more than five months, but first she must get past likely favorite Cee's Irish and four other 3-year-old fillies in Friday's Grade 3, $125,000 Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows.

Trained by Michael Stidham, Whimsy didn't begin her career until Jan. 29, when she scored an easy 9 3/4-length victory over maiden special weight company at Sam Houston. She followed that effort with two straight allowance victories, one at Fair Grounds and the other at Keeneland.

, a daughter of Maria's Mon, then suffered her lone career defeat, finishing third, beaten just a half-length, in a six-furlong overnight handicap on May 14 at Arlington Park.

Shipped here for the $50,000 Panthers on June 10, Whimsy rallied to score an easy 4 1/4-length win in the one-mile race. The Panthers was Whimsy's first try around two turns.

Stidham said Whimsy came out of the Panthers in good order and has trained well since, including a strong half-mile breeze in 47.80 seconds at Arlington last Saturday.

"She's handled every challenge we've given her so far," said Stidham. "Regardless of what distance or what track we've run her at she has responded to the challenge and she just keeps improving."

Carlos Marquez Jr. has a return call on Whimsy in the Oaks. The pair should have a lively early pace to run at despite the fact only six are entered. Whimsy will carry 115 pounds under the allowance conditions of the Oaks.

ships in from Hollywood Park for trainer Doug O'Neill and figures to be tough to beat. Cee's Irish has won 4 of 11 starts, including three stakes, while amassing $391,860 in earnings - more than triple any of her rivals on Friday.

Cee's Irish exits the best race of any Oaks entrant, having finished third, beaten 1 1/2 lengths, in the Grade 2 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks on June 12. The Grade 3 status of the Iowa Oaks is the main reason Cee's Irish is here, according to O'Neill.

"She's graded stakes placed now and a win in a Grade 3 would further enhance her value," he said.

Corey Nakatani, who rode Cee's Irish to victory in the $250,000 WinStar Sunland Park Oaks in April, has the mount. Cee's Irish starts at the 121-pound highweight and figures to be close to the pace from the beginning.