06/09/2006 12:00AM

Argentina's cure might simply be a trip East


PHOENIX - Needless to say, there aren't going to be many people shedding tears for trainer Bobby Frankel.

Frankel's European import Argentina was supposed to be the goods, his next Megahertz or Intercontinental or Starine. Argentina's resume in France was flashy. She looked like a sure thing to emulate those other Frankel runners when he unveiled her in America this spring.

But Argentina has failed to live up to expectations. Her form in France in 2005 included a stakes win against eventual group-stakes winner Viane Rose and a second in the Group 3 Prix Penelope. Better still, she was second in the Group 1 Prix Saint-Alary at Longchamp behind the top-class Vadawina. She then ran second in the Group 1 Prix de Diane, also known as the French Oaks, at Chantilly behind all-world Divine Proportions, who at the time was widely considered the best European filly since Miesque and certainly the best miler in Europe. After a dull run in the Group 3 Prix de la Nonette at Deauville last August - seventh as the 8-5 favorite - Argentina was finished for the year, and was sent to the U.S. and Frankel.

Her U.S. debut was promising - a strong, rallying second behind multiple graded-stakes winner Silver Cup in the Grade 2 Santa Ana Handicap at Santa Anita on March 26. But she failed to duplicate that effort in the Grade 2 Santa Barbara on April 22. Frankel surely hoped the Grade 1 Gamely Handicap at Hollywood on May 29 would reveal her true ability, but it didn't happen.

Argentina prompted the pace in the 1 1/8-mile Gamely under Alex Solis and looked poised to win, at a short 6-5. But the anticipated burst never came. Argentina loomed dangerously going into the lane and briefly took the lead in midstretch, but you could see all along that Shining Energy's strong rally was going to carry her to the wire first, and it did, rather easily. Not only that, but pacesetter Dancing Edie, whom Argentina seemingly had dispatched in midstretch, re-rallied to edge Argentina for second.

The reason for Argentina's disappointing results so far might have nothing to do with talent and everything to do with location.

Argentina's success came on the deeper, softer, lusher courses in Europe. In fact, she had never seen firm footing until she came to the U.S., and all three of her U.S. starts were on firm turf. And not just firm turf - the courses in California aren't as deep or thick as what she was accustomed to in Europe, and likely not as deep or thick as what she would see on the East Coast.

Turf courses in California are more amenable to horses that like to run on top of the ground, and these firmer courses help runners like Megahertz and Shining Energy, who can blast home quickly. Argentina may be more comfortable on turf courses where a huge kick isn't as important. In other words, her cure might be as simple as moving to the East Coast.

In her six races in France, she raced on soft ground (three times), heavy going, and good turf (twice). She's much more likely to see those kind of conditions in the East. And under those conditions she might not lose stretch drives to a horse like Shining Energy, who can run a sub-12-second final eighth.

Argentina might be more of a grinder. She might not be able to explode home.

Of course, Frankel already has Melhor Ainda based in the East.

Still, the best remedy for Argentina might be a ticket out of town.

Showing Up's itinerary

Colonial Downs in Virginia has a pair of $1 million races - the Colonial Turf Cup on June 24 and the Grade 2 Virginia Derby on July 15 - and Showing Up, owned by the owners of Barbaro, is reportedly targeting both. A son of Strategic Mission, Showing Up has shown enormous potential and is reportedly working great on the turf. His connections have said that the two Colonial Downs races are next for him. He last ran sixth in the Kentucky Derby, in only his fourth career race.

The Colonial Turf Cup and Virginia Derby are part of the Grand Slam of Grass, which offers a $2 million bonus to any 3-year-old who sweeps a four-race turf series, which also consists of the Grade 1, $400,000 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington on Aug. 12 and the Grade 1, $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4.

Trouble is, Showing Up's connections have already hinted that after his two Colonial Downs starts he likely would target the Grade 1, $1 million Travers, since he already has proven he can run on dirt.

I may be getting ahead of myself, because Showing Up still has to win or at least run very well in the two Colonial races, but should he do so, his connections would be saddled with a tough decision - the Travers or the bonus. A nice problem to have.