01/06/2006 12:00AM

Barancella tops Tanaka entry

Exercise rider Humberto Gomez works Barancella this week in preparation for Sunday's San Gorgonio.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The Southern California filly-mare grass colony returns home Sunday at Santa Anita for the division's first graded stakes in two months. It's about time.

The race is the Grade 2 San Gorgonio Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile oasis for a race-starved group that scattered across the country during the all-dirt meet at Hollywood Park. The San Gorgonio entrants are familiar in California, even if their recent running lines are not.

returns from Woodbine; Flip Flop raced at Belmont Park; and Star Parade won on dirt at Hollywood Park. Those three Gary Tanaka-owned mares are coupled in the wagering and will be favored over a slew of frequent flyers.

are back from Churchill Downs. Ticker Tape ran at Calder. Bond Deal won at Golden Gate. Royal Copenhagen won at Arlington. Dream's and Silver Cup ran at Santa Anita. While the San Gorgonio topweights are Star Parade and Ticker Tape, the horse to beat is Barancella, victim of an unlucky trip Oct. 23 in Grade 1 E.P. Taylor at Woodbine.

"She probably should have won," trainer Bobby Frankel said, and trip handicappers would agree. Barancella was sixth on the rail, full of run, but blocked. The entire rest of the field swooped past on the far turn, and Barancella was mired in last with three furlongs to run. She kicked late and finished fourth while beaten only three-quarters of a length against stronger opposition than she faces Sunday.

Frankel said Barancella is "doing well," and expects a top effort from her first start back. Barancella has won 2 of 10 starts, and placed in two Group 1's as a 3-year-old. Pat Valenzuela rides Barancella, whose entrymates present questions.

Star Parade would be the lone speed, but trainer Darrell Vienna said Tanaka may prefer running only two horses. If Star Parade scratches, she will return on dirt. If she does run, this Grade 1 winner could be long gone.

"Turf was the start of her turnaround; it was a rebirth," Vienna said.

Star Parade's main objective is the Apple Blossom in April at Oaklawn Park.

Flip Flop is the third leg of the entry, running for the first time since finishing 12th in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. She previously finished second in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon at Santa Anita in October, but trainer Ben Cecil said Flip Flop "probably will need a race."

Cecil's less-established runner is Bond Deal, an easy winner of a weaker race at Golden Gate. Comparing his two runners, Cecil said Bond Deal "has come on a bit from her last race, and with Flip Flop coming off a layoff, I think they're pretty closely matched."

has returned to form, having finished third in the Grade 3 My Charmer Handicap on Dec. 3 at Calder. The entire 2005 season was frustrating for Jim Cassidy, the trainer of Ticker Tape, who has lost eight straight after winning the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth at Keeneland in late 2004. "I've been playing catch-up," he said.

Ticker Tape was sold privately early last year and turned out for 90 days, after which her form wavered.

Cassidy said Ticker Tape "never tips her hand" in morning workouts, but when regular rider Kent Desormeaux worked her last month, he razzed Cassidy about the her loss at Calder.

"How'd you get this filly beat?" Desormeaux said, jokingly.

The message was clear - Ticker Tape, whom Desormeaux rode to two Grade 1 wins, felt as good under him as ever.

looms a possible upsetter. She ran Dec. 29 at Santa Anita, and was blocked badly through the lane. "It was a public gallop. She was a bit unlucky," trainer Patrick Biancone said.

He added that Silver Cup, a Group 2 winner in Italy, "is just starting to blossom now."

Biancone said the jockey change to Victor Espinoza was because of Silver Cup's 114-pound weight assignment, not her bad trip.

Stage Shy's last race, an eighth-place finish in a Grade 3 in Kentucky, is a throwout. Described by trainer Neil Drysdale as "a sensitive filly," Stage Shy threw a fit at the gate, and finished eighth of 12. While Stage Shy is better at 1 1/4 miles, she has won at 1 1/8 miles.