11/06/2003 12:00AM

At 6, Cee's Elegance just gets better


ARCADIA, Calif. - The old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be. She's better. At age 6, Cee's Elegance is racing in the best form of her career. She has been good enough to beat open company sprinting in the Grade 2 A Gleam Handicap at Hollywood Park this summer, and was second to Florida-bred Smok'n Frolic when going long in the Sunshine Millions Distaff at Santa Anita in January.

Cee's Elegance enters Saturday's $150,000 California Cup Matron at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting as a far more formidable presence than in last year's Matron, in which she finished fifth. Her ability to adapt to different distances, her current form, plus the ideal trip she figures to get in this year's 1 1/16-mile Matron make her the one to beat in the day's fourth race.

Cee's Elegance has not raced since finishing fourth as the favorite when sprinting in the Rancho Bernardo Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 23. Her trainer, Doug O'Neill, said he and owner Michael Cooper - the principal partner in Cees Stable - decided after that race to concentrate on two-turn races and to point for the Cal Cup. As a result, Cee's Elegance has not had a start in 2 1/2 months.

"We wanted to come into the race fresh," O'Neill said at Hollywood Park, where he is based. "When I originally got her, she didn't run well, and I was working her a lot. Now we've gone to galloping her fast and working her slow. She has a history of foot problems, so putting some space between her races helps her feet and helps keep good weight on her."

A repeat of her performance in the Sunshine Millions would make Cee's Elegance difficult to beat. It was at the same 1 1/16-mile distance as the Matron. Does O'Neill believe she is better at that distance, or at the A Gleam's distance of seven furlongs?

"I'll tell you after Saturday," he said, chuckling. "I thought seven-eighths was perfect, but it seems the competition is a little easier routing. She's versatile enough that it's hard to say which is her better distance."

There is a question, too, of whether Santa Anita is her preferred track. Cee's Elegance has finished in the money in 7 of 12 starts here, but has won just once.

Cee's Elegance, who starts from post 2 while carrying top weight of 122 pounds, should get an ideal, ground-saving trip tracking the expected pacesetters, Royally Chosen and Super High.

Royally Chosen disappointed when fading to sixth in the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap on opening day of this meeting, but her previous race was terrific. She lost narrowly at Del Mar to Adoration, who two starts later scored a front-running victory in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. There does not appear to be the kind of pace pressure in the Matron that Royally Chosen faced in the Lady's Secret, and the competition is not as fierce, so she should stick around a lot longer. She is reunited with her favorite jockey, Alex Solis.

Super High won last year's Matron but does not seem to be the same horse she was a year ago. She has lost all four of her starts since then and has yet to finish in the money in three starts this year. She does her best when on the lead, and being drawn outside of the fleet Royally Chosen does not bode well for her chances of setting the pace.

Summer Wind Dancer, like Super High, was a Cal Cup winner a year ago, when she took the Juvenile Fillies. The now 3-year-old filly is winless in five starts since then, however. She is returning to the dirt, her preferred surface, and to Santa Anita, her preferred main track, where she is 2 for 3.