11/15/2007 12:00AM

Argentina strategy: One run

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Argentina faded to ninth in the Breeders' Cup after contesting the pace.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Miserable weather gave dozens of horses ready-made excuses when the Breeders' Cup was run three weeks ago at Monmouth Park, but a boggy turf course wasn't necessarily what led to Argentina fading badly to finish ninth in the Filly and Mare Turf.

It seems that an overeager running style, as opposed to turf condition, is what produced the worst effort in nine North American starts for Argentina, a 5-year-old mare with Irish breeding, a French racing background, an owner from Texas, and a Hall of Fame trainer currently based in California.

"Leaving there, she was wanting to do it," said Bobby Frankel, who trains Argentina for the Stonerside Stable of Bob McNair, owner of the Houston Texans football team.

Indeed, an uncharacteristic desire for early command, further complicated by her racing in close proximity to a filly who bolted, Simply Perfect, all but ruined any chance of Argentina pulling a mild upset at nearly 8-1.

But things could unfold dramatically differently Saturday when Argentina makes what is highly likely to be her final career start in the $150,000 Cardinal Handicap at Churchill Downs. With Julien Leparoux taking the mount, Argentina will be the 120-pound highweight in the 34th running of the Grade 3 Cardinal, a 1 1/8-mile race carded as the ninth of 10 races.

"The plan for Saturday will be to cover her up and make one run," said Frankel, who will deputize Scott Hansen while staying put in California.

Argentina clearly is the class of an eight-horse field in the Cardinal, and if the right trip unfolds for her this time, it is not difficult to envision her successfully capping a 16-race career that began in France and will now consist of 14 group or graded attempts, eight of them being Group1 or Grade 1.

If she is to fail, Criminologist is the most likely spoiler. A markedly improved filly since the calendar turned in January, Criminologist will be shooting for a fourth straight victory, having won her first graded race last month, romping in the Grade 3 Athenia Handicap at Belmont Park.

Fringe contenders in the Cardinal include Nottawasaga, a Canadian invader with Kent Desormeaux named to ride, and Candy Ball, a regular on the Texas-Louisiana circuit who will be making her first start since Bret Calhoun assumed her training from Andrew Leggio Jr.

The rest of the field is Jade Queen, Mama I'm Home, Bicoastal, and Love Handles.

First post Saturday is 12:40 p.m. Eastern.