02/13/2002 1:00AM

Ay, Santa Maria, here comes Queenie Belle


ARCADIA, Calif. - Trainer Ben Cecil has two goals for Queenie Belle this season. "I'd like to try to get her to $1 million and I'd love to see her win a Grade 1," he said.

Queenie Belle is $379,210 short of the $1 million mark, but can make a significant dent into the difference with a victory in Sunday's Grade 1, $200,000 Santa Maria Handicap at Santa Anita.

A 5-year-old, Queenie Belle has won 6 of 21 starts for owner Gary Seidler, including the Grade 2 Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap here last September. She has lost three subsequent starts, but has run better each time. After a 10th in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at 79-1, Queenie Belle was third in the Cat's Cradle Handicap for California-bred fillies and mares on Nov. 23 and second in the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap on Dec. 15 at Hollywood Park.

"She ran great in that race," Cecil said of the Bayakoa.

At Santa Anita, Queenie Belle is at her best. She has won 4 of 7 starts on this track, including the 2000 California Cup Matron, which was run over 1 1/16 miles, the same distance as the Santa Maria Handicap. "A mile and a sixteenth is her best trip," Cecil said.

Queenie Belle will be well backed in the Santa Maria, a race led by Spain, the 119-pound highweight who is in a slump. Spain has not won in eight starts since the 2001 La Canada Stakes and was third in the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap over seven furlongs on Jan. 26. Although she's a Grade 1 winner over seven furlongs in the 2000 La Brea, Spain is more effective around two turns, which Cecil acknowledges. He also knows that Queenie Belle must contend with The Seven Seas, a stakes winner on turf trained by Bobby Frankel.

Other probables include Critikola, Leading Light, Printemps, and Verruma.

"If Spain runs her race, she'll be very tough," Cecil said. "With Frankel, you never know. Queenie Belle looks as good as she's ever looked. She's done more than we would have hoped for."

After Sunday, she may further exceed their hopes.

Hofmans, father and son, reunite

Trainer Grant Hofmans said on Wednesday that he is in the process of disbanding most of his public stable to rejoin his father David as an assistant trainer.

Grant Hofmans will keep a limited number of horses under his direction, those owned by Ed and Sharon Hudon and another partnership, but will primarily work for his father. David Hofmans trains *, a leading contender for the Kentucky Derby.

Grant Hofmans, 31, has operated his own stable for four years. Previously, he assisted his father when the stable included such major stakes winners as Alphabet Soup, Awesome Again, Dramatic Gold, and Touch Gold.

"My dad has a lot of good horses and he made me a great offer," Grant Hofmans said.

He said the arrangement includes a salary with potential bonuses.

On a similar note, the father-son team of Richard and Gary Mandella are restructuring their working relationship to allow Gary Mandella to open his own stable.

Gary Mandella, who turned 30 on Thursday, has had one starter in his name at this meeting, and will add more horses to his stable on March 1. Gary Mandella will continue to work with his father, preparing horses that are returning to the racetrack following rests.

Among his new stable, Gary Mandella will train Trompolino, the winner of the 2001 Chilean St. Leger who recently arrived in this country.

"In a couple of years, I'll probably work for him," Richard Mandella cracked.

Werblin goes in San Rafael next

Werblin, who finished third in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 2 in his stakes debut, will start in the $200,000 San Rafael Stakes over a mile on March 2, according to trainer Eduardo Inda.

In the San Vicente, Werblin led until the final furlong under Corey Nakatani before fading to finish four lengths behind Came Home.

"We'll give it one more try," Inda said. "He was pushed the other day. Corey said he never got a chance to give him a breather."

Came Home, the winner of the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes last summer at Saratoga, worked five furlongs in 1:01 on Wednesday and remains on target for the San Rafael, trainer Paco Gonzalez said. Azillion and Pelirrojo are among the other candidates.

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