02/14/2004 1:00AM

A dozen in for the long haul


ARCADIA, Calif. - Monday's $200,000 San Luis Obispo Handicap at Santa Anita has attracted 12 entrants, including 2003 major stakes winners .

Those two are far from being standouts, though, in the Grade 2 race over 1 1/2 miles on turf.

Four pounds separate the entrants in the handicap, with Continuously carrying high weight of 116 pounds. Trained by Bobby Frankel, Continuously is the likely favorite, but bettors will have plenty of alternatives.

Nine other stakes winners are entered, including 2003 American graded-stakes winners Puerto Banus, Runaway Dancer, and Senor Swinger, and 2003 foreign stakes winners Gene de Campeao, Labirinto, and Researched.

Continuously finished second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup last November but was promoted to first after the disqualification of stablemate Epicentre. Continuously followed that race with a second-place finish to Balto Star in the Grade 2 McKnight Handicap at Calder on Dec. 27, which impressed Frankel more than the Turf Cup.

"He ran a better race in Florida," Frankel said. "It was a better field."

That form leads the San Luis Obispo, the first major stakes of the year for turf marathoners.

Frankel says Continuously is best as a stalker, but he will have little pace to follow in the San Luis Obispo. There is no clear front-runner, suggesting the race could be run at a slow pace and develop into a sprint in the final half-mile.

A similar scenario developed in the Grade 3 Carleton Burke Handicap over 1 1/2 miles last October, when Continuously led to the eighth pole but faded to finish eighth, 4 1/2 lengths behind upset winner Runaway Dancer.

"The only bad race he ran was when he was on the lead," Frankel said.

The first three finishers of the Carleton Burke - Labirinto and Senor Swinger were second and third - and fifth-place finisher Researched all start in the San Luis Obispo.

Fairly Ransom, the 2003 Del Mar Derby winner, returns following a sixth-place finish as the favorite in the San Marcos Stakes on Jan. 19.

"It's the only bad race he's run, and I'm still trying to figure it out," trainer Ron McAnally said.

Researched has not started since the Carleton Burke. In England last year, he won a minor stakes while trained by Sir Michael Stoute.

The San Luis Obispo is Researched's first start for trainer Ben Cecil, who has been thrilled with the gelding's progress since the Carleton Burke.

"It's what he's done since then - he's training very well," Cecil said. "I think this will be an important horse."