04/22/2004 12:00AM

Yearly Report returns in Melair


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The $200,000 Melair Stakes on Saturday at Hollywood Park was not expected to be the late April goal for Yearly Report.

After Yearly Report won the Grade 2 Santa Ynez Breeders' Cup Stakes over seven furlongs at Santa Anita in January, she appeared to be a candidate for the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, coming up on Friday.

But illness kept Yearly Report off the racetrack and away from the important races in February in March. The Melair is essentially a consolation. Yearly Report is part of a formidable entry with Western Hemisphere. The Melair is run over 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-old California-bred fillies.

The race could have been the toughest on Saturday's Gold Rush program for statebreds. House of Fortune, the winner of the Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park on April 9, and Silent Sighs, the winner of the Santa Anita Oaks last month, are California-bred fillies. But they both are pointing for the Kentucky Oaks.

Yearly Report and Western Hemisphere start from the inside two post positions in the field of eight. Bob Baffert trains both, for Golden Eagle Farms.

Tim Yakteen, Baffert's assistant at Hollywood Park, said that both fillies will start.

"The plan is to run them both," he said. "They're both doing great. Maybe we can give them the old 1-2 punch."

The distance poses a new challenge for several of the fillies. Yearly Report and Western Hemisphere have not won beyond seven furlongs.

The only filly in the field to have won at the distance is Iza Legend, who beat maidens at Golden Gate Fields on March 11. She returned to finish third by six lengths in an allowance race against open company at Santa Anita on April 4. Trainer Lewis Cenicola was not discouraged by the loss.

"The track was a little dead that day," Cenicola said. "It was a little muddy, and I don't think the inside was the best place to be."

Yearly Report would be a standout favorite on her own, but the presence of Western Hemisphere adds depth to the entry. Western Hemisphere won a seven-furlong maiden race by five lengths in her second career start. She will be ridden by Javier Santiago, who was aboard for the maiden win and for a six-furlong workout last Sunday in 1:12.

"I think she's asking for the distance," Yakteen said. "She worked lights out. Javier worked here, and he was pretty impressed."

Nicole and Ben is trying a two-turn race for the third time, but trainer John Sadler dismisses her first two attempts. She was seventh in the California Cup Juvenile over 1 1/16 miles last November and a wide fourth in an one-mile optional claimer for statebreds on Feb. 19.

"We still think she can get a distance," Sadler said. "In the California Cup, she stumbled and lost all chance. The next time she was bulled into on the first turn. I didn't think those races were indicative of her ability. For this kind of money, we'd like to be in there."