08/21/2003 12:00AM

Cee's Elegance to stalk quick pace - not set it


DEL MAR, Calif. - There will no longer be any strategy experiments with Cee's Elegance, who will attempt to win her fourth stakes race since November in Saturday's $150,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap at Del Mar.

When she has been sent to the front in recent starts, Cee's Elegance has been beaten, with performances ranging from a close second in the Sunshine Millions Distaff over 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita in January to a poor sixth in the Desert Stormer Handicap over six furlongs at Hollywood Park on June 7.

When she is allowed to stalk the pace, the results have been outstanding for Cee's Stable and trainer Doug O'Neill. Cee's Elegance has won three stakes since last November, including an impressive score in the Grade 2 A Gleam Handicap over seven furlongs at Hollywood Park on July 13.

"We know she has to track the leaders," O'Neill said. "Don't use her up in the first part."

In the early stages of the Rancho Bernardo, run over 6 1/2 furlongs for fillies and mares, Cee's Elegance, 6, will be surrounded by her toughest competition.

Pacesetters Secret Liaison and Jetinto Houston may prove difficult to catch, while Madame Pietra, the 122-pound topweight, is a brilliant closer. The race drew nine entrants.

Secret Liaison is seeking her first graded stakes win. Trained by Ted H. West, Secret Liaison has started three times this year. She won her last start in an allowance race over 6 1/2 furlongs here on Aug. 6.

"She came back tired, but she bounced right out of it," West said. "We were worried about making this race."

In her recent win, Secret Liaison led throughout, tipping her best running style.

"We'll be up there, but whether she'll relax we'll have to find out," West said.

Jetinto Houston won the Irish O'Brien Handicap at Santa Anita in March but is winless in three subsequent starts, including a disappointing fourth behind Lacie Girl in the Vacaville Handicap at the Solano County Fair on July 12.

Lacie Girl starts in the Rancho Bernardo. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Lacie Girl is seeking her fifth stakes win of the year and first in graded company.

Madame Pietra may be positioned to catch them all. She has won four consecutive stakes since last fall, rallying from the back under jockey Patrick Valenzuela.

"I like my mare as far back as she can be," trainer Howard Zucker said.

Her presence in the Rancho Bernardo, combined with talented pacesetters and stalkers, could lead to an exciting stretch duel.