02/04/2004 1:00AM

The Candi Queen right back


ARCADIA, Calif. - Only two weeks after The Candi Queen won a first-condition allowance race, she takes a one-step jump in class in a $56,000 optional claimer at Santa Anita on Friday.

Trainer Steve Knapp said the opportunity at another lucrative prize was too good to pass.

"She's so sharp right now," Knapp said. "My exercise rider says he's having trouble holding her."

Owned by Jim and Marcia Equils, has won 3 of 12 starts since she was claimed for $20,000 last April. On Dec. 4, she won an optional claimer for California-breds over 1 1/16 miles by 17 lengths at Hollywood Park. She followed with a fourth-place finish behind Pesci in an optional claimer on Dec. 28 before winning by 2 1/2 lengths over a mile on Jan. 22.

The Candi Queen has not worked since her latest win, but that is not a concern for Knapp. After her last start, The Candi Queen had six days off and then resumed galloping.

"All we did was gallop her between races," Knapp said. "If they don't need to work, I don't work them. I think horses get hurt working more than they do in the races."

The optional claimer drew only five runners on a program plagued by short fields. There are 57 entrants in eight races.

The Candi Queen faces Great Dancer, Hope Rises, Petionville Indeed, and Throw Me Roses.

has faced the toughest competition among them, appearing in two stakes at this meeting. She was fourth in the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes on Dec. 27 and fourth in the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes on Jan. 18.

The Candi Queen is a front-runner who could be challenged by Throw Me Roses. Trained by Darrell Vienna, Throw Me Roses was third in a six-furlong allowance sprint on Jan. 7.

A fast pace would help Great Dancer, who won a six-furlong allowance race by three lengths on Jan. 2. Friday's race is her one-mile debut.

Even though The Candi Queen is making a quick comeback, Knapp does not intend for her to have a busy meet at Santa Anita.

"I'd like to run her sparingly here, because I know she likes Hollywood Park better," Knapp said.

The fifth race Friday is a $49,000 optional claimer for 3-year-old California-breds over a mile. The field is led by Black Horse Money, the runner-up in the California Cup Juvenile in November, and Badgett's Mandate, the runner-up in three stakes last year.