02/01/2009 12:00AM

Will O Way by a nose in California Oaks

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ALBANY, Calif. - Twice in the stretch it looked like heavily favored Will O Way would be beaten in Saturday's $100,000 California Oaks at Golden Gate Fields. In the end, though, she hung on by a nose and rewarded her backers with a $3 mutuel.

Will O Way stalked Be So Special and Digestivo while three wide and moved into the lead as the field of seven 3-year-old fillies turned for home. She was then headed by Oro Blanco and seemed destined to finish second.

Will O Way kept doggedly to her task, and Oro Blanco faded inside the sixteenth pole as Will O Way regained the lead in the 1 1/16-mile event. But the race was far from over as Point of Reference charged up along the rail to only miss by a nose.

Russell Baze, scoring his fourth win of the day aboard Will O Way, was worried when Oro Blanco put her head in front at the eighth pole.

"When I saw Oro Blanco coming up outside her, I asked her to pick it up and didn't get the response I was looking for," Baze said. "When Oro Blanco was beside her, she was just eyeballing her and lost her focus on running. But when Point of Reference came up inside of her, she regained her focus and started running again."

Winning trainer Vladimir Cerin said Will O Way had bruised a foot when finishing third in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita on Jan. 11.

"She wasn't as fit as I would like to have had her," said Cerin. "I lost a little training time. I thought it wouldn't matter but it absolutely did. She's a little better than this. She won on her determination and Russell's ride."

Oro Blanco"s jockey Roberto Gonzalez thought he was aboard the winner turning for home.

"I thought I was home free," said Gonzalez. "I don't know what happened but at the sixteenth pole she just spit the bit. I don't know if she bled or what, but she spit the bit."

Leslie Mawing thought he'd get up with Point of Reference, who was making her first start in a route.

"I waited until the quarter pole to make my move and when I saw that hole on the rail I thought we were going to get there," said Mawing. "The other filly was just too tough. I'm proud of my filly because this was her first route. She'll improve from here"

Will O Way, who won the Corte Madera here on Dec. 13, now has three wins in seven starts for Ronald Waranch and Holly and David Wilson. She earned $60,000 to increase her career bankroll to $162,500.