03/21/2008 12:00AM

Costume must outlast a closing pack

Benoit & Associates
Costume outruns Black Mamba in the Buena Vista Handicap. They will meet again in the Santa Ana.

ARCADIA, Calif. - How far can she run? That is the question Costume faces Sunday at Santa Anita, where she enters the Grade 2 Santa Ana Handicap for fillies and mares as the lone front-runner on a speed-friendly turf course.

Costume faces a mishmash of a field that includes four good late-runners. They are Colina Verde, a Group 1 winner in Brazil whose U.S. debut was her fifth straight win; Black Mamba, second or third in five graded stakes since arriving from New Zealand; Immortelle, another Group 1 winner from Brazil making her second U.S. start; and Lavender Sky.

Nine entered the $150,000 race, and the best chance for Costume is to win the race early. Five of the last six turf races (into Friday) at the 1 1/8-mile Santa Ana distance were won by the pacesetter. Speed has held all winter on grass, which is good news for Costume and jockey Garrett Gomez, who won the one-mile Grade 2 Buena Vista last out.

"I had a little trouble getting her to relax and I finally got her off the bridle," Gomez said. "She doesn't have to be in front."

Costume might be able to settle on Sunday. Whereas she was flanked by a rival throughout the Buena Vista, Costume could be alone in the Santa Ana. On paper, there is no speed to run with her.

Costume is trained by Bobby Frankel, who has saddled the first-place finisher of the Santa Ana 8 of the last 16 years (Megahertz won in 2004, but was disqualified).

Trainer John Sadler hopes the combination of an extra furlong and a switch to jockey Mike Smith allows Black Mamba to turn the tables on Costume. In the one-mile Buena Vista, Black Mama lost position on the far turn, flew late, and missed by a head.

"I thought she was unlucky the other day," Sadler said, explaining the rider switch. He said the nine-furlong distance "helps her a lot. She's going to win one of these, she's just been unlucky."

After winning her U.S. debut in an allowance, Black Mamba has four seconds and a third in graded stakes.

Lavender Sky is a half-sister to Kentucky Derby possible Numaany, who runs next weekend in the UAE Derby in Dubai. The question for Lavender Sky, runner-up two back in the Grade 2 San Gorgonio, is if nine furlongs is far enough.

"That whole family is distance and class," trainer Dan Hendricks said. "She wants a mile and a quarter or farther."

Alex Solis rides Lavender Sky, who won an allowance last out.