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Serena's Song May Try Cigar in the Big 'Cap


Serena's Song, the nation's top filly or mare, will be busy this Saturday, and she might also be working 14 days later.

After skipping last Sunday's La Canada Stakes after making a successful 1996 debut in the Santa Monica Handicap, Saturday's Santa Maria Handicap was the logical destination for the 4-year-old daughter of Rahy.

A March 2 engagement in the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap didn't appear to be on her itinerary, but a date with Cigar, the best horse of this decade, and any other males that show up, seems a distinct possibility for Serena's Song.

"I'm not going to rule it in and I'm not going to rule it out," trainer Wayne Lukas said, knowing the $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap against fillies and mares on March 9 is also an option.

No filly or mare has ever won the Big 'Cap, which will be run for the 59th time this year.

Thirty-six have tried, but only four have finished in the money. Next Move and Gamely finished second in 1951 and 1969, respectively, and Miss Grillo (1949) and Two Lea (1950) were third. Bayakoa was the last female to run in the race. She finished 10th and last in 1991.

Lukas talked Wednesday morning about what would have to happen for him to run Serena's Song, who has 14 victories in 24 lifetime starts, including nine Grade I victories, against Cigar, who made it 13 consecutive wins in his first race as a 6-year-old in the Donn Handicap on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

"I think she'll run a good race [in the Santa Maria], but she'd have to run a real, real good race and be very impressive," he said. "We want to get the Grade I that is in front of us before we start looking down the line.

"We'll see how she comes out of this race, look at the weight spread [between her and Cigar, who figures to get 129 or 130 pounds for the Big 'Cap], the prospects of the field and try to be objective and evaluate the whole situation and determine whether it's in our best interest.

"We have to weigh all the factors, but the bonus [for the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic] does warp it all a little bit."

Serena's Song, who beat males in the Jim Beam and Haskell last year, would automatically get a five-pound sex allowance if she runs March 2. Heavenly Prize, who was retired after her third-place finish behind Cigar in the Donn, was in receipt of 13 pounds (128-115) last Saturday.

"We've got a filly who likes this track [Serena's Song is unbeaten in five starts at Santa Anita] and who has pretty good tactical speed," Lukas said. "I think she's exceptional, and we've asked her to do exceptional things.

"It might be better to step out of our division later in the year, but she's got the durability factor in her favor. She seems to be there for all the big dances.

"[With the bonus] it might make sense to try and make the three races. Who's to say that she's not the second-best horse in the country? [Cigar] was definitely horse of the year, but after him, I think she fits with all the rest of them."

Making her first start since struggling home a distant fifth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, owner Bob and Beverly Lewis' filly handed Exotic Wood her initial loss in the Santa Monica on Jan. 27.

Rather than have Serena's Song go in the La Canada, Lukas elected to wait an extra week for the Santa Maria.

"Going from seven furlongs to 1 1/16 miles is a much better progression than going to 1 1/8 miles [the La Canada distance]," he said.

"Plus, this race is a Grade I and the other one was a Grade II. You're giving up $50,000 in the purse, but the Grade I is more important for her at this point of her career.

"She's the ultimate racehorse for any trainer. She's sound, durable and consistent. She runs good races and better races. The only bad race she's run was in the [Distaff], and the track really compromised a lot of horses that day."

Horse Racing Notes

Serena's Song, who will carry 124 pounds, will probably have only three or four opponents in the Santa Maria. The other probable entries are Twice The Vice, Klassy Kim and British Bauble. Luzette is considered possible. . . . The career of Soviet Problem is over. The 6-year-old mare, who was injured last year, re-injured a tendon while working Wednesday morning on the Bay Meadows turf course. Owned by John Harris and Don Valpredo, Soviet Problem finished with 15 victories in 20 starts and earned $905,416. She will be sent to Kentucky next month to be bred. . . . Northern Spur was given 123 pounds for Monday's $200,000 San Luis Obispo Handicap. The 1 1/2-mile turf race will mark the 1996 debut for the 1995 Breeders' Cup Turf and Eclipse Award winner.

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