05/03/2007 11:00PM

Cantabria shows ability on synthetic


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - In the wacky new world of artificial racing surfaces, one familiar theme has re-emerged. And when the Grade 3, $100,000 Hawthorne Handicap is run Sunday on Cushion Track at Hollywood Park, the horse-for-course angle is on full display.

Six fillies and mares entered the 1 1/16-mile race, including Cantabria. While her attributes go beyond an affinity for the surface, the significance of her only Cushion Track start last fall cannot be overstated. Cantabria crushed an allowance field by more than four lengths; she has waited five months to run again on the new surface.

The meet is just two weeks old, and evidence is mounting - horses with previous wins on Cushion Track are candidates to win again. Great Opinions, A.P. Xcellent, and Ymustichasethecat won Cushion Track races last fall, and again this spring.

Cantabria will try to follow suit. It should not be a problem against a modest field in the Hawthorne, the first of three Hollywood graded stakes for fillies and mares on the main track. The Grade 2 Milady Handicap is June 3; the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap is July 7. By then, division leader Balance will return.

Only two Hawthorne entrants have won on synthetic - Cantabria and Kentucky shipper Pyramid Love, who will try to reproduce three good Polytrack races. Trained by Patrick Biancone, Pyramid Love won two Keeneland allowance races in the fall, and finished second last out in a Grade 3. Julien Leparoux rides the 117-pound highweight.

Ballado's Thunder was an impressive dirt winner last month at Santa Anita, where she won a restricted stakes by more than three lengths. Trained by Rafael Becerra, Ballado's Thunder has won 4 of 12, and makes her first start on Cushion Track. Richard Migliore rode Ballado's Thunder to victory last out; he rides Cantabria on Sunday.

Owned and bred by Juddmonte Farms, Cantabria's turf career stalled after she went 1 for 10 in Europe. Sent to trainer Bobby Frankel, Cantabria made her U.S. debut Dec. 6 at Hollywood and dismantled an allowance field by more than four lengths.

She lost the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes on dirt next out, was off nearly three months, and won her turf-sprint comeback last month. If she can reproduce her first Cushion Track race, Cantabria can win her first stakes Sunday.