While waiting to hear if she's won the Eclipse Award as 2001's top distaffer, Spain goes postward in Saturday's $200,000 Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) over seven furlongs, her first start of the new year.
Owned by The Thoroughbred Corp., the 5-year-old daughter of Thunder Gulch finished an agonizingly close second in the 2001 running of the Breeders' Cup Distaff, a race she captured in 2000. Although she managed just one win in eight tries for 2001, Spain danced many of the dances, facing Chilukki, Lazy Slusan, Gourmet Girl, Lu Ravi, Trip, and Exogenous along the way. She won the grade II La Canada last February over the same Santa Anita strip she will cover in the Santa Monica. D. Wayne Lukas trains.
Luis Asistio's Kalookan Queen, a grade III winner who has taken down three of her last four starts, figures to be the stiffest competition for Spain. Trained by Bruce Headley (Kona Gold), Kalookan Queen finished second in the 2000 running of the Santa Monica to Honest Lady. Kalookan Queen comes off a score in the Corona Handicap at Hollywood Park Dec. 16.
Golden Eagle Farm's Favorite Funtime also comes in off a win at Hollywood Park, having won the Cat's Cradle in November. The Bob Baffert-trained front-runner has taken five of 10 lifetime starts. Warren's Whistle, conditioned by Mel Stute, and Leading Light, from the Vladimir Cerin barn, round out the field.
Here is the field, in post position order with jockeys and weights, for the Santa Monica: Favorite Funtime (Gary Stevens, 114); Kalookan Queen (Alex Solis, 119); Spain (Victor Espinoza, 120); Warren's Whistle (Kent Desormeaux, 113); Leading Light (Pat Valenzuela, 110).