09/13/2004 11:00PM

Argentine hits the Big Apple


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - In the wake of Miss Loren's 34-1 upset in the Clement L. Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar last month, trainer Luis Seglin predicted that the news would be greeted with considerable fanfare back home in Buenos Aires. He was right.

"All of a sudden I was a very important man, and everybody remembered me," Seglin said, still laughing at the thought. "There was a lot of nationalistic feelings."

Argentineans will get a chance to wave the flag again on Sunday in New York, where Miss Loren can prove the Hirsch was not a fluke by repeating her race against Sightseek and other top fillies and mares in the Ruffian Handicap at Belmont Park.

If Miss Loren can clear the Ruffian hurdle, it could be on to the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff on Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park. There is certainly encouraging precedent, since South Americans have been successful in three Breeders' Cup events through the years, and all three came in the Distaff.

Bayakoa, from Argentina, won the race in 1989 and 1990. Paseana, also from Argentina, won the 1992 Distaff, then missed by a nose in 1993. Stir in Brazil's Farga Amiga, who was second to Azeri in 2002, and the trend continues.

Before considering the Breeders' Cup, however, Seglin must get answers to a couple of key questions.

"She must be supplemented for 9 percent of the purse," he said, noting the $180,000 price tag for a non-nominated foal. "Before we even think about that, we need to find out how she ships, and how she can do against those Eastern mares."

As of Tuesday morning, Miss Loren was still safely bedded down in her stall at Hollywood Park, where she has been in steady training since the Hirsch on Aug. 8. Seglin has not strayed from the training pattern that got her the grand Del Mar prize, giving Miss Loren an easy half-mile two weeks after the race, followed by two six-furlong moves a week apart.

Her most recent work was Sept. 7 - three-quarters in 1:11 - the best of 10 at the distance.

"That was it," Seglin said. "Normally I don't work a horse the week of the race. And especially if I have to work a horse fast, I don't want to create a problem too close to the race. I always worry about what can happen to a horse at high speeds. Anyway, when you have a horse who is running, you don't need to work her that hard. They don't lose too much, and they stay sounder."

Miss Loren will be flown to New York on Thursday. For Seglin, a 58-year-old native of Buenos Aires, the trip will rekindle fond memories. It was more than 25 years ago that he took a swing at the Big Apple while trying to market a draft of runners from Argentina. He had no luck - there were no Miss Lorens in the bunch - but he never forgot the experience.

"I got to see Seattle Slew, Forego, Alydar," Seglin recalled. "Even Allen Jerkens playing polo, every weekend! I thought it was the best racing I had ever seen, and looking back, it probably still was the best ever."

Seglin, who has a veterinary background, spent about two years in New York, then returned to Argentina to deal with his farm. In 1995 he returned to the United States, this time settling in California, where he has labored with a small string ever since. After running twice without winning at Hollywood Park, Miss Loren unleashed a huge move under Jon Court to win the 1 1/16-mile Hirsch and give Seglin his first major American stakes victory.

It was also a good test of Seglin's repaired heart. Five years ago, the trainer underwent quadruple bypass surgery - the President Clinton procedure - which was not exactly the kind of headlines he wanted to make in Southern California.

"To tell you the truth, I didn't suffer one bit," Seglin said. "I'll tell you when I did suffer, though - when I had my knee replaced. Now that was miserable. But my heart is good, at least until Sunday."

Miss Loren, named with Sophia Loren in mind, races for her breeder, Juan Carlos Bago. In terms of family, she presents a classic case of an Argentine-American mix coming full circle. Her sire, Numerous, was a $1.7 million Keeneland yearling of 1991 whose damsire, Forli, was an Argentine Horse of the Year. Miss Loren's dam, Luminare, is by Forlitano, a major stakes winner in Argentina and the U.S. For good measure, Charlie Whittingham trained Numerous, as well as Forli and Forlitano during their American careers.

On Sunday, however, Miss Loren must stand on her own. The field she soundly defeated at Del Mar was solid, featuring Star Parade, House of Fortune, and Elloluv. But tackling Sightseek at Belmont Park is a much different proposition, more akin to Daniel strolling into the lion's den. Can she rise to the occasion?

"That's a good question," Seglin said. "I really hope she does. She's really doing great, so I told the owner why not take a chance. We will know where we are standing, for real."