10/25/2006 11:00PM

Cambiocorsa: Reigning queen of the hill


ARCADIA, Calif. - The lessons have apparently been learned. Not many owners and trainers with California-bred fillies and mares capable of running in Saturday's $150,000 California Cup Distaff are anxious to take on the heavily favored Cambiocorsa.

In recent years, the Distaff, run over about 6 1/2 furlongs on turf, has drawn an oversubscribed number of entrants and had 14 starters. This year, there are only eight entrants.

Cambiocorsa is unbeaten in eight starts on Santa Anita's hillside turf course, the venue for the Distaff. Bettors will make Cambiocorsa a heavy favorite for the streak to go to nine on Saturday, when she runs as the 125-pound topweight.

Cambiocorsa's streak includes overnight races, minor stakes, stakes for statebreds, and two Grade 3 stakes this year - the Las Cienegas Handicap in April and the Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap on Sept. 27, her first start in nearly three months.

"It was like we hadn't stopped a bit," trainer Doug O'Neill said.

She has won 8 of her last 9 starts overall, with the only loss during that span a fifth in the Grade 3 CashCall Mile at Hollywood Park in July.

In her most recent work, at Hollywood Park on Oct. 20, she went six furlongs in 1:12.

"She's either getting better and better, or I've left her race on the track," O'Neill said of the workout.

What makes Cambiocorsa so remarkable is her running style. She can set quick fractions on the hillside portion of the course, and keep going when the field crosses over the main track and onto the oval portion of the turf course. And, she doesn't have to be in front. In the Maddy, she was a half-length off the pace early, took the lead after the crossover, and won by 2 1/2 lengths.

"When she relaxes with that natural speed, her kick is unbelievable," jockey Jon Court said. "She's a lot of fun."

Rival horsemen may not agree with Court's idea of fun, but at least a few capable runners will line up against Cambiocorsa.

The opposition includes Leave Me Alone, the winner of the Grade 1 Test Stakes at Saratoga in 2005, and several winners of minor stakes, such as Allswellthatnswell, Kresgeville, River's Prayer, and Vikki's Honor.

Leave Me Alone is winless in eight starts since the Test Stakes. She has been sixth or worse in her last three starts, a span that began with an eighth-place finish in the Grade 2 Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap at Churchill Downs on May 5.

Trainer Eric Kruljac said that Leave Me Alone was showing signs of being in season that day, which caused her to run poorly. Even though she has worked well in recent weeks, Kruljac is unsure how Leave Me Alone will run in her first start since July.

"It depends on what she's thinking about when she goes in the gate," he said. "She had a very active ovary at the race at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby. She ran and it hurt her. I think the next two times she remembered that. They get smart."